Gridlock concerns over £45m Doncaster rail chord scheme

Parish Councillors Howard Connell, Francis Jackson, Derek Collins, Adrian McLeay, Matthew Elder and George Gracey, pictured by Askern Level Crossing. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Crossing MC 1
Parish Councillors Howard Connell, Francis Jackson, Derek Collins, Adrian McLeay, Matthew Elder and George Gracey, pictured by Askern Level Crossing. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP Crossing MC 1

Concerned residents want action to deal with traffic chaos in their Doncaster village which they say has followed major changes to rail routes.

Askern residents have complained over backlogs which have caused traffic jams through the village since a new 'rail chord' was built to take freight off the main East Coast passenger line, by taking it onto a different section of track.

But it has meant that the level crossing on Moss Lane, in the village, is now closed more frequently, with queuing traffic backing up onto the A19, the main route from Doncaster to Selby and one of the busiest roads in the borough.

The issue came to a head recently when the crossing broke down for more than hour around rush hour, causing gridlock until it could be repaired.

The new £45 million 'rail chord' is a railway line north of Doncaster which was opened by then then transport secretary Patrick McLaughlin in 2014.

The 3.2km double track route links the Skellow and Askern lines and allows freight trains to travel over the East Coast Main Line, instead of crossing it on the level and reducing capacity, and prevents them from conflicting with passenger services.

But residents say it has led to more trains crossing Moss Road, leading for calls for action.

Francis Jackson, chairman of Askern Town Council, believes it is one of the main issues in his town, and it is one of the main issues that concerns the town council.

He said: "Since the rail chord was completed, it has increased considerably the down time at the crossing.

"We estimate that it is four or five times an hour now, rather than perhaps twice an hour before the chord was built.

"One day last week the crossing failed at 4pm and was it 5.05pm when Network Rail managed to raise it again. The traffic was back to Owston Road.

"Once you get 15 vehicles from the crossing, they reach the lights and block the junction and you get gridlock. Network Rail have said they looking to put some equipment to speed things up.

"When the crossing is down on Moss Road, it can be down for five minutes at a time. Freight trains are not going through at 100mph, they are going through at slow speeds."

He said the other level crossings in Askern did not cause the same sort of problems.

Some residents say they believe the solution would be to upgrade Norton Common Road, so it could serve as a bypass, linking Selby Road with a point further along Moss Road that would avoid the need to go through the level crossing.

But Coun Jackon said at present, parts of North Common Road are little more than a track.

Doncaster Council bosses are aware of the issue and are in talks with Network Rail over the situation in Askern.

Peter Dale, Director of Regeneration and Environment, said: “We do understand the frustrations that can be caused by level crossings, both within the borough and indeed across the country.

"However, we also have to remember these are an important and necessary safety feature. At the present time there is no plan to develop a new bypass, but we will liaise with Network Rail about the crossings and carry out further work to fully understand their impact on traffic movements.”

Network Rail stresses the importance of level crossings.

A spokesperson said: “Level crossing barriers are lowered to protect the safety of road users, pedestrians and those travelling on trains.

“The barriers are down for the shortest amount of time possible. If the barriers remain down once a train has passed over the level crossing, it is because another train is approaching.

“It’s vital that people follow the instructions at level crossings. Users should never attempt to jump over the barriers or enter the crossing once the light sequence has started.

“We know that there was a fault at Askern level crossing last week which caused disruption to those wishing to use the crossing. Network Rail engineers visited the site and carried out work to fix the problem. We’d like to apologise to anybody who was affected by the fault.”

* The £45 million North Doncaster Chord opened in June 2014 to link the Skellow and Askern lines, allowing freight trains to travel over the East Coast Main Line, instead of crossing it on the level and reducing capacity

GB Railfreight was the first operator to use the 3.2km double track chord, which also prevents freight trains from conflicting with passenger services.

The centrepiece is a 246m-long six-span viaduct at Shaftholme connecting the Grimsby–Doncaster and Doncaster–Knottingley lines.

Before the chord opened, freight had to run on the busy East Coast Main Line for 14 miles from Applehurst to Hambleton South before turning off and heading for the power stations.

By separating freight and passengers it prevents slow moving freight from delaying passenger services as well as reducing fuel costs by providing freight with a more direct route.

It involved 500,000 tonnes of constructed earthworks and the Joan Croft level crossing was closed and replaced with a bridge.

Freight trains travelling between Humber ports and the power stations can avoid having to run on the ECML for up to 22km.