Residents have been complaining about the barriers on the Fen Road level crossing being down more than they should be, and more than they were before Cambridge North opened. Working with Cllr Manning and Milton's Cllr Anna Bradnam, I (Owen Dunn) have been investigating how much of a problem this is. The short answer is that in the hour I picked one December morning the barriers were down for 45 minutes.
Like many Chesterton residents I've been looking forward to Cambridge North for a long time and supported local Lib Dems in their campaign to get the station opened. I'll continue to campaign for more and better services at the station, but I believe we need to ensure that the communities on the far side of the railway don't suffer as the train service improves.
Many were reassured when Network Rail promised that the level crossing barriers would be down after Cambridge North's opening no more than they were before. However, the publicly accessible timetable data tells a different story. Here is a visualisation of the timetable on 21st November 2016, before Cambridge North opened.
Every diagonal line is a train timetabled to pass, and if they go between the Cambridge and Cambridge North horizontals on the diagram they will cross the level crossing. I make that eight trains between 07:00 and 08:00.
Now look at this visualisation of the timetable on 20th November 2017, after the opening of Cambridge North.
That's eleven trains between 07:00 and 08:00 with the period around the top of the hour being particularly congested.
So that's how many trains. But are the barriers down any more than they need to be? Some tell me they've been waiting for up to twenty minutes and others that they've been able to phone the signaller to get the barriers raised. I spent a slightly chilly hour one morning in December to observe the level crossing to find out. Here are the results; the crossing is closed in the blocked-out times.
Totting that up, the level crossing was closed for 45 minutes in the hour 6:50-7:50. There are some periods where the barriers are lifted for a minute or less, but waits of about 5 minutes are usual and there can be much longer closures. It's not surprising that some feel the railway excludes them.
Cllr Bradnam and I are seeking to meet Network Rail to discuss changes in timetabling or signalling operations to improve the situation. However in the long term it's clear we need to provide a better route to the areas east of the railway line so that residents and businesses aren't shut out.
The Chisholm Trail and new cycle bridge access should be adjusted to provide cyclists and pedestrians with routes to avoid the level crossing.
The Cambridge Northern Fringe development (on the sewage works site) is an ideal opportunity to improve car and lorry access to the Fen Road area and I will be pressing for this to be included in the plans.