Network Rail are keen to stop us crossing their tracks. We think it’s them that have crossed a line….

They weren’t exactly brazen about it. In mid-December, a letter dropped through the door of a few select houses, all close by the rail line.

It could so easily have been missed: that time of year usually has people rather distracted by the looming festive holidays, and with the daily letterbox fodder swollen with Christmas Cards and junk mail, you’d be forgiven for overlooking it.

But those who did open it up and read found it contained a bit of a bombshell: Network Rail were looking to close three paths that run across the line, on the rather spurious grounds of safety.  We had until the end of the month to lodge an objection. Curiously, these letters were post-dated late November. Had they been floating around in the ether / sorting office all that time? Nope.

A cynic may suggest that this was done on purpose to keep the number of objections to a minimum. However, we at The Beestonian are a positive bunch so accept that this was, as Network Rail claimed when this was bought to their attention ‘an admin error’. They duly extended the consultancy to late January.

So what is being proposed?

Three crossings, named as ‘Nature Reserve’ (Meadow Lane); Long Lane and Barrat’s Lane No.1 are being considered for closure. This would severely restrict access into the nature reserve by all means other than car: necessitating a 3 mile round-trip for most Beestonians used to the highly popular Meadow Lane crossing. Cycle paths, jogging routes, bridleways and nature trails would be blocked off. Bizarrely, the Nature Reserve was not informed of Network Rail’s plans, which is akin to someone nailing your back door shut without notice.

Alternatives are suggested: a rather limited token mention of bridges, each suggestion appended with a list of reasons why this would not be practical. There is no option for retaining the status-quo; or beefing up safety features. It’s a raised way, or no way.

Beestonians were, unsurprisingly, livid. A campaign was swiftly set up, overseen by myself, and a great surge of community action began as people contacted groups who would be affected. The word spread beyond those few houses that received the letter, until the media picked up on it, which in turn alerted others.

Emails were sent to Network Rail, stating why the shutting off of the paths would be detrimental. Nature lovers, denied access to our beautiful nature reserve. Cyclists, who use the crossing to join the cycle paths to Nottingham. Dog walkers. Horse riders. Joggers, who keep fit pounding the mazy paths. A wealth of reasons have been put forward.

If we look at the bigger picture, we can see why this is happening. After a severe scolding from an all-party parliamentary report on safety back in 2014, which admonished them for their approach towards safety at level-crossings,  Network Rail have been keen to reduce their liability on the rail network in the bluntest way possible: get rid of them altogether. This also reduces expenditure on maintaining crossings: if there is no need to have clear sightlines down the track, it is fine to leave bushes to overgrow longer.

There have been deaths, but after an accident a decade ago of a pensioner, Network Rail themselves stated that the circumstances were highly unusual (the victim was wearing a hood that prevented clear vision; he was very hard of hearing; there was dense fog that day) and did not warrant further safety measures being implemented. The vast majority of people use common sense when crossing, to a degree of vigilance that they would not usually do crossing a road.

Retaining the status quo (albeit it with increased safety features), or building bridges accessible to all is what we need to argue for. How these are implemented is up to Network Rail.

What is key, what we need to strongly stand against, is any attempt to lose access to these vital crossings, the paths that through giving easy access to those wanting fresh air and exercise increase the collective health of our town.