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December 14 2011

Recent improvement work made by Network Rail to the pedestrian level crossing at Tide Mills, between Newhaven and Seaford, has been met with mixed reactions from the local community.

Much needed work to improve safety and access to Tide Mills, in particular for wheelchair users, was made to the crossing in early December, requiring that the busy public footpath and crossing be closed for a period of three days.
Since reopening to the public on Wednesday 7th December it would appear that some feel Network Rail has failed to deliver on its promises.

In a detailed account of the new pedestrian access at Tide Mills, published on Haven News yesterday, Geoff King, AKA Mr Grumpy, felt that although the replacement gates were certainly an improvement on the old crossing system, the new gates were far from perfect, with workmanship leaving much to be desired;

'The pedestrian gates on both sides of the track need to be pulled towards you to open them, so anyone who may be disabled and in a wheelchair or buggy, anyone with a cycle, anyone with surfing or fishing gear and families who may have a child in a pram or push chair need to pull these gates back towards themselves, making it all but impossible for such groups of users to open these gates with any degree of ease.' wrote Mr King.

He also criticised the 'crazy angle' of the fence posts, the viability of gates with a 'self closing' mechanism on a coastline prone to frequent gales, the proximity of the beach side gate to the railway track, the wire 'art work' hanging from the A259 side gate, as well as the overall quality of the job.

In fact, Mr King goes so far as to say that the new gates are in fact not entirely self closing, calling in to question the safety of the crossing and highlighting the potential hazard posed, should a child or pet run toward the track.

'On approaching the gate on the Beach side of the railway line it is very evident that this gate is not 'self closing'.

'The reason that the gate on the Beach side of the railway line does not 'self close' is probably because it only has one closing spring fitted to it.'

In direct response to Mr King's views, Network Rail representative, Clive Robey, promptly put to bed many of his concerns, in particular those regarding the opening of the gates;

'Irrespective of the wind related issues on the gates, I have to advise you all that level crossing gates of this type are deliberately installed to open outwards, in other words, away from the track. This is to avoid any 'blocking back' of users that may possibly find themselves in the wrong place with an approaching train. By pushing at a gate going away from the track ensures they will not get trapped.' wrote Mr Robey.

'With regard to the gate fixing on the A259 side, we are striving to find a solution to suit the weather conditions. The gate must be self closing, the equipment fixed so far is temporary.' he continued.

Conceding that aesthetic aspects could be put to one side, given that they were largely the result of temporary measures, Mr King's response went on to reveal that these temporary gate closing mechanisms have since been modified, but only resulted in the A259 side gate being blown open in relatively light winds.

'These new gates, on both sides of the railway line, need adequate closing mechanisms as a matter of urgency. This is a very serious Health and Safety issue.' Mr King concluded.

However, it would seem that for the time being, Jim Skinner, Chair of The Friends of Tide Mills, one of the original parties who negotiated the improvement works over a number of months, has settled the issue between a concerned Mr Grumpy and Network Rail. After seeking reassurance that both gates would be made to self close, Mr Skinner went on to say;

'I am and remain firmly of the opinion that these works are in line with the design agreed by both the Friends of Tide Mills AND the Access in Seaford and Newhaven Group, are a major improvement and, once the self closing teething problem is solved, will open Tide Mills up to all for the first time in many a year. I do not agree at all that the new gates are difficult to open/negotiate.'