Network Rail and guardians of the Yorkshire Dales National Park appear to have hit an impasse after it emerged a level crossing used by an estimated 200,000 walkers every year is classed among the most high-risk on the national railway network.
The rail infrastructure body has lodged a proposal with North Yorkshire County Council to build a bridge, both steps and lifts, at Horton in Ribblesdale Station, saying closing the level crossing on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route “is the only option available to reduce risk to an acceptable level”.
In planning papers submitted to the council, Network Rail said the crossing had been identified as “high risk”, largely due to the volume of walkers and runners using the public right of way.
The papers state: “The level crossing at Horton in Ribblesdale station is one of the most high-risk crossings on the railway network.
“Walkers are often in groups, and sometimes in large numbers taking part in events and challenges, which can mean that people cross one after the other, relying on the person in front to stop, look and listen.
“This can lead to herd mentality where a group cross the railway without each individual stopping to make the proper checks.”
Network Rail said while the risk walkers faced was likely to be further exacerbated by proposals to reconnect Horton Quarry to the railway, it was mindful the proposed site was in a conservation area designation and on a highly visible elevated setting.
It stated: “For this reason, the design and materials have been carefully considered to provide a bridge that is of minimal allowable height to safely span over the railway, with low lift shaft towers, and design aesthetics that will compliment and reference the station buildings.”
However, objecting to the plans the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority said the proposed bridge would have “a level of impact on the setting and significance of the conservation area, and the non-designated heritage assets which lie within it”.
It has called for the plans to be reconsidered and for a full study of the impact on the area’s heritage, and urged the county council to reject the scheme if its concerns were not addressed.
Network Rail responded to the objection saying it had considered all options and its plan was “the best practical means of achieving step-free access for station users”, as is required under the Equality Act, as well as providing a safe and convenient route for walkers.
It said its proposals had an “overwhelming public safety benefit” and reducing the length of the bridge would be less convenient for walkers, who would have to go down to the station platform before heading up to the footpath to Ingleborough.
Nevertheless, the park authority has since replied stating it “is highly regrettable that Network Rail are not prepared to commission a heritage study” and underlined its other objections.
A park authority officer wrote: “It is within a conservation area and surrounded by heritage buildings, and to not take account of these is highly unfortunate.”