Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th June 1979.

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Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw 12:00 am, 26th June 1979

I shall not attempt to follow the complex problems of Knottingley which my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) has put so admirably. I shall instead talk about a problem in Bassetlaw which affects a number of my constituents to whom it is of great importance. I refer to clauses 10 and 12 on pages 11 and 12 and schedule 1 to the Bill which requires the alteration of four level crossings in Bassetlaw on the main Doncaster to Gainsborough line. This is not usually a fast express line, but 65 trains a day use the line. The top speed is 60 miles an hour. More importantly, it is a line used for diversions when work is taking place on the main London-Edinburgh line. The fast Inter-City 125 trains are diverted at weekends whenever work is in progress.

The alterations to the level crossings are causing some concern to my constituents. There are four crossings—at North Carr, at Tindall Bank, at Tethering Grass Lane and at Walkeringham. It is at Walkeringham where the real objections are being made by the Walkeringham parish council and by the Bassetlaw district council. The first proposal is that the North Carr crossing should be closed to road traffic from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the following morning except when flooding takes place on the River Trent and in the pea vining season.

The second proposal is that the Tindall Bank crossing shall be closed completely except for a wicket gate giving access to people on horses and on foot. The Tethering Grass Lane and the Walkeringham crossings are to be closed with a padlock. The keys are to be given to nine local farmers who can unlock the crossing and take their stock across when flooding occurs or when they need to gain access to the other side of the line.

The objections come especially from the Walkeringham parish council which says that the village will be denied amenity land on the other side of the line and that it will be difficult for villagers to walk to the River Trent. Most of all, the council says it will create a dangerous hazard in the vicinity. In the village of Walkeringham, there are 60 houses, 40 of them council houses. There are many children in the area. The crossing at Walkeringham is, in effect, a barrier between the village and the amenity land on the other side of the railway line. If the farmers are allowed the keys to open the gates and lock them after use, a farmer or a farmworker will sooner or later forget and the crossing will be left open for children to wander on to the railway line. Someone will be killed. There is also the chance that the locks would be vandalised or that children would break them so that farmers would be unable to get their stock across to the other side of the railway line if flooding took place.

Representations have taken place between British Rail and the parish council and the district council over several months. One or two changes have been promised. It was agreed that vegetation on the side of the line would be cleared, making for better visibility, and that whistle boards would be installed to give seven seconds' warning to anyone thinking about crossing the line. It may seem that the villagers are being unnecessarily cautious, but there have been two serious accidents in the area.

Ten years ago, at a crossing nearby at Saundby, a car stalled on the level crossing. Instead of getting out of the car and running, the occupants of the car attempted to push the vehicle. A train hit the car and two people were killed.

Again, last December, according to a report in the Retford Times an accident happened at the Tethering Grass Lane crossing. The headline said "Rider thrown clear as train hits horse". Two 17-year-old girls were riding their horses over the crossing. One escaped with minor injuries when a train appeared round a corner and struck the rear hind quarters of the horse. The horse was killed instantly. The girl rider was thrown and taken to Gainsborough hospital where she was detained overnight. She was obviously badly shocked and sustained some injuries.

According to the newspaper, the Retford police said that the riders had started to cross when they noticed a train approaching at high speed from the direction of Doncaster. One of the girls managed to cross safely but Miss Richardson's horse was struck on the hind quarters and killed instantly. The horse belonged to a local farmer who said it was a miracle that the girl was not killed or seriously injured. The accident involved the Hall to King's Cross passenger express which had beeen diverted to the Beckingham line because of track works on the main line. The Inter-City 125 trains, which are now diverted, are much quieter, are quicker and approach at fast speeds.

British Rail propose that at Walkeringham, which has a population of 200 literally butting up to the level crossing, the crossing shall be locked with keys accessible only to farmers. Sooner or later, a farmer who is in a hurry or whose stock is going astray, or who simply forgets, will leave the crossing open and a small toddler will wander on the line when an Inter-City train is going past at high speed. The villagers are saying, rightly in my opinion, that the crossing should continue to be manned. They realise that changes have to be made They are not objecting to the closure of Tindall Bank. They do not object so much to the Tethering Grass Lane crossing being padlocked and the farmers possessing the key. But they maintain, as an absolute minimum, that the same proposals should apply at Walkeringham as those put forward in the Bill for North Carr.

This means that the crossing would be manned from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and that at times of flooding and during the peavining season, when there is heavy traffic, carrying peas from farms to Batchelors in Worksop in my constituency, it should be manned all night. My constituents are not asking too much. The alternative is to close the crossing. The farmers would then be in trouble when the Trent floods, as it does almost every time there is heavy rain.

British Rail have taken a census of the number of vehicles crossing at Walkeringham. They say that a manned crossing is not justified since only 30 vehicles a day use it. The local parish council has checked with the signalmen and they dispute the figures. The union says that just as many vehicles use that crossing as use the crossing at North Carr. They say that the crossing should be manned because sooner or later there will be an accident.

British Rail say that they cannot be held responsible for trespassers. But if those trespassers are young children who do not know any better and go through an open gate on to the line, British Rail have a duty. I understand the problem of cost. But if cost is to be measured by the lives of children living nearby British Rail cannot justify trivial savings which might put lives at stake. Accidents have already occurred. The villagers are justified in asking for the alteration.