Residents bemoan money spent on new railway footbridge that's 'attracting ridicule'
Some residents are less than impressed with a new type of railway bridge that was launched with a fanfare across the line at Craven Arms.
The FLOW bridge - Fibre-reinforced, Lower cost, Optimised design, Working bridge - is a new experimental design of footbridge and Network Rail put it there to replace a 'dangerous level crossing' - but some in the area aren't going with this particular flow.
Chris Naylor, the acting chair of Church Stretton and Craven Arms Lib Dems, said the bridge is "in the middle of nowhere" and is "attracting local ridicule" because it is "connecting a field to a field and does not have ramps for wheelchairs, bikes et cetera".
Network Rail says the bridge does replace what was a dangerous level crossing on the fast railway line, and there is a fully accessible bridge just 200m away.
Mr Naylor says locals have criticised the bridge for being a "waste of money and time" and a "typical disgraceful waste of taxpayer money", and are asking "what has happened to common sense?".
Mr Naylor said: "In the middle of the fields, it appears to connect two hardly-used footpaths - both of which end up on busy roads, and don’t connect with either local towns or villages. Nor does it link to the old Roman Road byway immediately adjacent.
"Apparently part of the attractively-named 'Wart Hill Wander' - the sign for which is hidden behind years of hedge - the new bridge might have had a role if Shropshire Council’s recent 'levelling-up' bid for Craven Arms had succeeded.
"No doubt this may help a few walkers, and good luck to them," said former councillor and campaigner Mr Naylor.
A Network Rail spokesperson said that the company is "responsible for the retention, maintenance and upgrade of railway infrastructure and cannot comment on plans relating to local roads.”
The firm also said it carries out diversity impact assessments on all new railway crossings, "ensuring all projects pay due regard to our duties within the Equality Act 2010.
“Our assessments on the FLOW bridge prototype deemed it suitable for its current location, just outside Craven Arms, as there is no accessible path to the bridge.
"The assessment also noted there is a fully-accessible foot crossing around 200 metres away.
“All FLOW bridges will meet the accessibility requirements of each individual location, including the installation of ramps or lifts, where needed.”
The bridge was funded by Network Rail’s Research and Development (R&D) team, alongside leading industry specialists, and aims to provide a faster, more sustainable, and affordable option to assist with the closure of dangerous railway foot crossings around the UK.
Craven Arms became the first location to benefit from the prototype 21-metre long when it officially opened to the public on Friday, January 27.
The footbridge replaced an extremely high-risk level crossing that closed a number of years ago after it was deemed unsafe for use, said Network Rail. This was due to the position of the loop – the layby to the side of the main track – at this location, which prevented pedestrians from having clear visibility of oncoming trains.
But it cost around 40 per cent less than traditional steel structures and does not use concrete in the foundations, reducing its carbon footprint, and it weighs half of a traditional steel bridge, meaning lower transportation and installation costs.
Andy Cross, programme manager at Network Rail Wales and Borders, played a key role in designing the bridge.
“Its versatile design means we have already started looking at fully accessible versions, with lifts and ramps, for other locations where that would be a suitable option," he said.
Nick Millington, interim route director at Network Rail Wales and Borders said: “This prototype has the potential to transform railway crossings, making them safer, more affordable and fit for the future.”
79-year-old Michael Starr, a local rambler, is one of many who will benefit from the new footbridge, as it forms part of a popular walking route.
Michael said: “I think the bridge is a fantastic addition to the community, providing connectivity, once again, to our beautiful local countryside. We used to have to detour around a mile on this walking route, after the level crossing was closed, so this really makes a difference.
“Network Rail has really listened to the community and showcased something for the future while maintaining safety on the railway."
Mr Naylor said he would not want the bridge taken away but wants Network Rail to make sure it gets properly used.