The West Somerset Railway has announced that the Seaward Way Level Crossing in Minehead is not likely to reopen to passenger trains before October 2021.
The level crossing is being completely rebuilt because traffic across the level crossing has increased over the last 20 years and the equipment is now worn out after years of exposure to sea air.
The Coronavirus Pandemic has resulted in delays to the crossing work.
The current two barrier crossing will be replaced by four barriers to extend over the entire road and will be controlled from the signal box. This therefore requires CCTV so that the signalman can see up and down Seaward Way before closing the barriers.
New traffic lights with low-level lights for pedestrians will be fitted and the railway signalling is having to be completely rebuilt.
Planning for the work started in 2018 and is funded by the Somerset County Council, with £1.2m being allocated by the council.
The WSR plc Director with overall responsibility for the crossing project, Frank Courtney, said: “It has been a significant disappointment to all the team, from both the WSR and Somerset County Council, that it has not been possible to compete the work in time for the 2021 season, but a range of factors (mainly the pandemic) have been against us.
“The old crossing had to be taken out of use in 2020, and once it had been, we just had to press on until the new one is finished. When it is, then it will be good for many years to come, and will not only enable the railway to operate more effectively, but will also significantly reduce delays to road traffic and pedestrians.”
WSR plc Chairman, Jonathan Jones Pratt said: “We know how important the railway is to our fellow businesses in Minehead, and we are all working very hard with Somerset County Council to get this job finished.
“Subject to government guidelines, this summer we are arranging for passengers to complete their journey by special bus connection from Dunster and whilst this is not the same as the long train ride, we hope to have some vintage buses to make this a special experience.
“With continuing effort from all the team, our many contractors and our partners at Somerset County Council, we will have passenger trains running into Minehead again by Christmas, and hopefully well before then.”
The West Somerset Railway has released the press statement after Ian Liddell-Grainger MP released this statement:
“The lack of trains is going to wipe hundreds of thousands off local balance sheets this summer at a time when so many businesses have been left financially vulnerable by the pandemic,” he said.
“But what concerns me most is the information vacuum surrounding this whole issue.
“It has been known for a long time that the level crossing is no longer fit for purpose because of increased road traffic. But what I and the local business community wish to be told is why the delays have crept in.
“It is my understanding that the work was ready to start two years ago but then the company insisted on ‘heritage’ rather than electric signalling being installed. That would have added £80,000 to the total cost – an expense which the county council resisted.
“If that is the case then it is utterly farcical. The vast majority of people who use the trains don’t care in the least about the type of signals installed: they simply want to ride on the railway – and in most cases get to Minehead.
“If this was not the case then I shall look forward to a full and clear explanation from both sides as to what has caused this entirely unacceptable delay together with a clear indication from both as to when the work will be done and services restarted.”
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