On January 29th, five Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton Rail User Group representatives visited the Foxton Signal Box in order to better understand the potential for more breaks in Shepreth Station level crossing downtimes, so that pedestrian, cycle and vehicle traffic can pass through more frequently. We met with Jody Bidnell (Mobile Operations Manager), Giles Dinnewell (Crossing Operator) and Charles Baker (Public Affairs Manager) all of Network Rail.
The Foxton Signal Box is operated by Network Rail and controls both the Foxton and Shepreth level crossings.
What we learned:
The current train pattern is designed so that there should be a reasonable lift and lower time at Shepreth and Foxton. If they are running to timetable many of the trains from either direction pass each other around Shepreth and Foxton, resulting in less barrier downtime. However, as soon as a train in either direction runs late that will extend the barrier downtime.
When any train on the London core is delayed by more than three minutes, there is a knock-on effect across the whole Thameslink network that can take up to four-five hours to right itself.
The Level Crossing barriers at Shepreth should rise automatically unless they are held down for another train coming in 3 minutes or less.
In order to check that the Shepreth crossing is clear before giving a train a green light, the Signal Box has a direct CCTV camera view of traffic at Shepreth level crossing and can see any pedestrians waiting to cross, as well as anyone trespassing over the barriers.
On our stretch of the London-Cambridge Line there are currently 18 trains per hour at peak time and 12 off-peak. The crossing operators indicated that they see no capacity for additional trains, with so much pressure on the system. They also noted that Barrington Quarry trains are not currently running, which is helpful. It was mentioned that when the Quarry trains are reinstated the crossing operators had suggested that the trains reverse at Cambridge Station instead of Foxton, thus saving some barrier downtime.
The RUG is asking for one month’s crossing data to ascertain any anomalies in terms of longer down-times, which Network Rail is keen to understand. This has been agreed; we will study the data and report back to Network Rail.
The crossing operators have an 8-hour shift pattern Monday-Saturday, and a 12-hour shift on a Sunday. There is currently discussion within Network Rail about changing the shift patterns and staffing at the Signal Box.
With reference to the incident at Foxton on 27th January when the pedestrian gates were temporarily locked: The wicket gates at Foxton are controlled by the Crossing Operator in the Signal Box. The Crossing Operator’s protocol states that a train cannot be given a green light to proceed unless the gates send a signal to say that they are properly locked. If there are any problems with the gates they are manually locked with chains to prevent the risk of pedestrians opening them when a train is coming. The Crossing Operator then alerts the Network Rail Maintenance Team to come and fix the gates.
Both Crossing Operators – Giles Dinnewell and Jody Bidnell – are Melbourn Village College graduates. Jody’s father and grandfather were railwaymen, and his granddad lived at Meldreth Station. We will be looking to have current MVC students interview them, hopefully on film, in order to share information about how the level crossings are managed on this very busy stretch of railway.
If you’d like more technical information on the mechanics of the level crossing, the reasons behind the shift to a full barrier system, and why the Meldreth Rd system works so differently please click here.
Susan van de Ven and Sarah Grove