Anger over rail plan that 'will cut Shropshire village in half'

Campaigners in Shropshire have taken to the streets to protest over plans to "cut the village in half" by permanently closing a level crossing.

Anger over rail plan that 'will cut Shropshire village in half'

The future of the crossing at the small, picturesque village of Ashford Bowdler, on the outskirts of Ludlow, hangs in the balance as Network Rail say an increase in rail traffic in the coming years will make it unsafe.

But proposals to close the crossing for good and instead build a new link road north for the cut-off side of the village have met with outrage.

The village contains 20 houses, with 12 on one side of the level crossing and eight on the other side.

The issue was first raised by Mike Shallow, chair of Ashford Bowdler Parish Meeting, and then caught the attention of MP Philip Dunne called the idea "appalling" and said it would have a devastating impact on the village.

Now the villagers themselves, and supporters, have organised into a campaign group to raise awareness and fight the plan.

Campaign organiser John Hunt said they were locked in a "David versus Goliath" struggle with Network Rail.

He said residents were stunned to learn of the plan to close crossing.

Because Ashford Bowdler is a rare cul-de-sac village, with only one road to take traffic in and out, if this road was stopped off half way through at the level crossing a previously short walk to the post office or the 15th century church would become a one-and-a-half mile drive out onto the A49, he said.

Network Rail said the plans, which form part of a £75 million scheme to modernise the railway between Shrewsbury and Newport, were only at the proposal stage.

Mr Hunt said: "Neighbours will be permanently divided and the close community risks being destroyed.

"Friendships will be put at risk and for some elderly residents just getting to the post box or church will become extremely difficult if not impossible.

"If it were not so serious it might sound a bit like a Whitehall farce.

"To spend £2 million to £3 million pounds on a new road just to avoid 50 people and a handful of vehicles using a crossing on, which there has never been an accident or incident in over 150 years, beggars belief.

"We hope the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP and Minister for Rail, Claire Perry MP, who have been advised of the situation by MP Philip Dunne, will make Network Rail think again.

"We will also be lobbying Shropshire Council, which has given tacit agreement to the building of a new road although it will exit on to a country lane in what villagers believe to be a dangerous location.''

Hannah McCarthy, spokeswoman for Network Rail, said residents would be consulted on why plans to close the level crossing were important for everyone.

She said: "We are currently developing a £75 million project to modernise the railway between Newport and Shrewsbury.

"The project will see new signalling technology installed along the route, with the level crossings also being upgraded.

"We are taking this opportunity to look at how we can reduce risk at Ashford Bowdler. One of the options is to keep the crossing open for pedestrians only and divert vehicles by another route.

"As part of this process we want to give people the chance to tell us how any option may affect their community.

"We are only at the proposal stage so this is a great opportunity for residents to have a say on our plans and find out why closing level crossings is important to us all."

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