The level crossing at Ufton Nervet where seven people died in the 2004 rail accident is to be closed and replaced with a bridge Network Rail announced today (Friday).
It brings to an end a long campaign by local people and those involved in the accident for safety improvements just days before the anniversary of the accident.
Network Rail looked at three options but say the safest is a bridge. The company will now look to design the new road crossing, negotiate with land owners and find the necessary funding.
The decision also follows another death at the crossing in May this year when a Reading man, David Montague was killed after he was hit by a train on his scooter.
Local Councillor Geoff Mayes says it is "the safest option but will also prove expensive." He says purchasing the land and design works could mean the bridge not being built for "some considerable time."
It was on the 6 November 2004 at 18:12 a First Great Western train collided with a stationary car on the crossing. The inquest concluded that the accident was caused by Brian Drysdale, a chef at the nearby Wokefield Park Hotel, committing suicide by parking his car on the crossing. He was killed along with train driver Stan Martin and five passengers.
The problem with the crossing is it only has half barriers making it easy for cars to cross when the barriers are down.
After months of careful examination, Network Rail has announced its preferred option for replacing a level crossing in Ufton Nervet will be a bridge.
The crossing is due to be renewed and Network Rail has studied the feasibility of all the options available including replacing the crossing with a road bridge, an underpass or installing full-barriers. The company's preferred choice is to close the crossing and replace it with a bridge as this option eliminates all risk.
The company will work closely with land owners, the local authority and residents to take this preferred option forward. It does not own the land by the crossing and planning and highways consent will be required.
Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail route managing director, said: “We have a once-in-a generation opportunity to make changes at Ufton Nervet as part of our plans to re-signal and electrify the line.
"It is our view that we have a strong case to close the crossing and replace it with a road bridge. Every crossing that we close removes the risk of a person or vehicle being struck by a train and improves safety for everyone on the railway and for those who travel across it.
“Closing a level crossing is not an easy process and it is not something to we can do alone. To make this happen, we will need the support of land owners, the local authority and local people. We will look to their support as we look to continue improving safety and upgrading the rail network for the future."
Ufton Nervet level crossing is located between Aldermaston and Theale and in the last few months Network Rail has examined a number of options for it. Network Rail is funded to provide a like-for-like replacement at this location and to build a road bridge it will need to secure additional funding.
Network Rail considered the following options:
**(i) Closing the crossing and replacing it with a road bridge
This is Network Rail’s preferred choice. **The land surrounding the crossing is open farmland, making it possible to build a road bridge at this site. Every time a path or the road meets the railway there is a risk and Network Rail considers that a bridge at this location would improve safety and eliminate this risk. Although the annual cost of maintaining a road bridge and a full-barrier crossing are similar, the life span of a bridge is much longer than a level crossing, strengthening the case for this option.
**(ii) Installing a full barrier crossing at Ufton Nervet
**This option would enhance safety and is less expensive to install than a road bridge. While there is still a crossing, a level of risk remains and that is why Network Rail’s preferred option is to close it and replace the crossing with a bridge.
(iii) **Closing the crossing and replacing it with an underpass
**Providing an underpass would have similar safety benefits to a bridge, but it is considered that this scheme would incur considerably higher costs than the other available options. The crossing is close to the river and canal which means that the underpass would need to be designed to eliminate the flood risk, therefore the costs of this option would be grossly disproportionate to the benefits. It would not provide the best value for money.
The next step for Network Rail is to develop the bridge plan further, including looking at land purchase, designs and funding.