Closure of St Albans level crossing is punishing locals, says disabled man forced to take massive detour

Willem Hofland by the crossing, whcih is now closed

Willem Hofland by the crossing, whcih is now closed - Credit: Archant

A disabled man left exhausted after being forced to walk further than usual after a well-used level crossing footpath was suddenly closed has criticised Network Rail for punishing locals.

The authority barred people from accessing the heavily-used crossing over the Abbey Flyer railway on the Cottonmill estate last Tuesday.

Although no alternative provision was made for pedestrians, Network Rail said it had to be closed as nearly 250 incidents of misuse, including someone lying on train tracks, were recorded over a nine-day period.

Staff monitoring it noted users wearing headphones or on mobile phones - potentially preventing them hearing an approaching train - and groups of youths loitering on the tracks.

But Willem Hofland, 61, of Grindcobbe Close, St Albans, said: “I don’t understand how Network Rail can punish residents for the deeds of a few people. I would like it reopened.”

Willem, who had a stroke eight years ago, was left exhausted as he was forced to walk up Prospect Road in pouring rain instead of taking his usual shortcut over the line.

Other residents have also taken up the cudgels against the authority, with Martin Aaron, of Maynard Drive, seeking “urgent action to be taken to reopen the footpath”.

He has written to county councillor for St Albans south, Sandy Walkington, and St Albans MP Anne Main to enlist their support, as he uses the crossing several times a day.

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Martin said: “It is part of my daily commute to St Albans City Station and I also use it every time I want to go into town – and I have never seen a single instance of the ‘misuse’ that [Network Rail] is claiming.

“I cannot understand how this closure has been allowed to continue. It is over a week now and is having an appalling impact in terms of forcing the elderly of Cottonmill, mothers with prams and the disabled to embark on a considerable detour.”

However, despite complaints and a request from the county council to reopen the crossing, Network Rail has declined to do so.

A spokesman said that based on ‘high levels’ of misuse, the footpath would remain closed until an alternative, safe way to cross the railway was provided.

He added: “We are in contact with the local authority and will work with them to find a solution as quickly as possible.

“We appreciate there may be inconvenience to local people in the short-term and apologise for this.”