Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Denched at Drenchworth (2)

Readers may well remember that a foot crossing on the Great Western main line between Grove and Denchworth was a possible locus in quo for fbb's observation of First Great Western Railway expresses. No 1 son eventually took the old man to the new footbridge between multi-storey car park and station entrance at Didcot ...
... where much observational fun was had by all, sheltered from the pouring rain! The foot crossing alternative would have been very soggy.
Going back pre WW2 this right of way would have been the only direct route between Denchworth and Grove (just off the map, bottom right).
With the opening of Grove air base in 1942, the old road south through the base was closed and a proper road provided from the railway bridge, parallel to the tracks then curving gracefully round to Grove.
The above map shows the new curve (top right) and the old Denchworth Lane and Barwell Lane cruelly interrupted by some runways! A modern map extract confirms that the pathway was diverted to join the new (in 1942) road.
The long red dashes signify not a footpath but a bridleway. An alternative map shows the bridleway in green ...
Another map, larger scale, shows the ctossing as LC - Level Crossing.

Which is where the problems begin. A bridleway (there's a clue in the name) provides for pedestrians, cycles, horses and other animals but NOT motorised vehicles.
This was enshrined (re-enshrined) in legislation in 1988 and as later amended.
Under certain circumstances the landowner may grant the right for motor vehicles to use a bridleway, a situation which can be difficult to prove either way and is often contentious.
Clearly a foot bridge would be considered unsuitable for a bridleway which is why the flat crossing remains.

Then evidence for the track as it crosses the road nearer to Denchworth is clear from the little green finger post ...
... but there is very little evidence of usage by anything. Even an aerial view shows little evidence of ear and tear.
But a bridleway it is and a bridleway that crosses a very busy railway line. It follows, therefore, that Network Rail has the job of designing and maintaining a safe crossing for walkers, cyclists, horses and other animals - even if the route is little used.

Closure would undoubtedly bring a "pitchforks at dawn" response from country folk, despite that fact that there is now a road route where once there was none.

So it was that No 1 son and No 2 grandson paid a site visit to said crossing, in the wind and the rain, one week after the fbb's had returned Seaton-wards.
The weather was wet and windy!
Although the signs did mention vehicles, No 1 son was fairly certain that you could not actually get a vehicle across, except, perhaps, a quad bike.

But there were warnings a-plenty ...
... covering most eventualities.
There was the bog standard generic warning ...
... plus a catch-all red frightener advising a phone call to the "crossing operator".
 Except that, of course, there is nothing to operate.
The contact was via phone to wherever in the world the "crossing operator" might be located.
Fortunately, for the safety of all concerned, the track is straight with unimpeded views at this point; but the whole set-up was described by the damp and wind-swept visitors as "very scary"!

No 2 grandson enjoys making videos, and as a conclusion to this intriguing episode, his take of the Denchworth foot crossing is spectacular and ...
... really very scary!

Yet again, you do wonder whether the railways should be obliged to provide this "safe" facility for very few users.

And, for the record, please note that the rest of the former airport site is now being developed with a huge housing estate.
The Denchworth road and bridle way are top right. The estate has been names as Wellington Place after the bombers that once used the air base.

 Next Routemaster blog : Wednesday 13th November 


  1. I used to cross the South Wales Main Line via an uncontrolled foot crossing every day as a child. There wasn't even a telephone. Trains didn't go at 100mph but the view of the line was limited by a curve in one direction and a bridge in the other. We were taught to check that the signal arm on the down line was horizontal before crossing, although there was no way of checking the up line. We survived.

  2. The Rail Accident Investigation Reports make sobering reading, as every year pedestrians are killed at "user-worked" crossings. In some cases the people crossing have clearly been inattentive, stupid or careless, but not always. There are cases where single-track reversible train and tram line) parallel each other, so people who have seen a tram passing from right to left in front of them look to the left before crossing, see that there's nothing coming from that side and cross the line - only to be hot by a train coming in the same direction as the first one. Then there are places where foliage has been allowed to grow to such a degree that one has to put oneself in a dangerous place if one is to see that a train is coming (this even happened to a car on the very low-speed and rarely used Aldeburgh branch a few years ago). And there are places where the line speed has increased to the extent that anyone (such as an OAP) who walks relatively slowly can check carefully before starting to cross yet still get hit by a train coming upon them before they've got to the other side. Once can see why Network Rail tries to take such care (and why it wants to eliminate as many crossings as it can) but it is very difficult to think through the criteria for every single crossing in the country. Even putting visible or audible warning signs can be an issue; not only are they expensive but they can be very intrusive if they're on a busy line in a residential area. There are no easy answers!