A Bleak Outlook for Reigate’s Level Crossing?

An article about our campaign appeared in the Surrey Mirror on 9th October 2022 and on the Surrey Live website. This contained some inaccuracies. Please see our response.

The Reigate and Redhill Society and the Reigate to Reading Community Rail Partnership are so concerned about the inaction regarding the future of reigate's level crossing, the following was sent to the Surrey Mirror in August 2022.

Reigate’s level crossing is a major source of congestion on the A217. In rush hour jams often extend into the one way system and can block the A25 both ways. The jams occasionally extend to the M25 roundabout causing blockages on the M25. This also affects traffic that does not use the level crossing. Greener transport such as cyclists, buses and pedestrians are also delayed.

The recent GWR service of three trains per hour service in each direction has been reduced to two trains per hour since the pandemic. This will be increased when passenger levels return. GWR have a documented aspiration to increase this to four trains per hour. Add to that Transport for South East has a stated aspiration of running cross country trains ‘east of Guildford’.

Further in the future, there is a scheme to get a south western railway line into Heathrow Airport with two trains per hour travelling to Guildford. This service could be extended to Gatwick Airport although there are some technical challenges. This gives a long term possibility of SEVEN trains per hour in each direction over the level crossing instead of the present two. Improvement to the train services will be irrespective of the state of the roads and will happen regardless.

So far this is ifs, buts and maybes. However if these additional services are introduced, what is being done to stop the A217 clogging up completely?

The answer is almost nothing, despite a number of SCC Highways traffic plans & policy guidelines that mention Reigate Level Crossing as a problem but no mention of how to resolve the problem.

The Reigate and Redhill Society and the Gatwick to Reading via Reigate Community Rail Partnership have been agitating for action on a number of fronts. There are three issues here; the time the gates are closed, smoothing the traffic flow on the A217 and for a long term project to replace the level crossing.

Regarding a long term solution, a report was produced some time ago and discarded as ‘too difficult’. As there has been some new thinking in this area, we are asking for this study to be dusted off and reconsidered in the light of the long term threat. With a preferred and approximately costed solution, Reigate’s MP of the day can then approach the Department for Transport with demands for implementation should the increase in rail traffic happen.

Network Rail have introduced a new procedure for the signalmen which reduces the time the gates are closed by about one minute or so per hour. Further reductions could be obtained if the line was resignalled. This was to be included in the Platform 3 upgrade but this resignalling has recently been dropped from the project. We are trying to establish when in the future the resignalling might happen.

We have asked Surrey County Council Highways (SCCh) to consider traffic lights on the zebra crossing to the north of the crossing to smooth the traffic flow and reduce congestion. Their response was as follows:

Converting the existing zebra crossings into signalised pedestrian crossings is not something that would be appropriate due to the proximity of the railway level crossing. Signalised pedestrian crossing with sets of traffic lights would force drivers to stop at a red light (which they currently don’t have to do at a zebra crossing) and also for a longer period than at a zebra crossing. This would lead to increased traffic queues, increased pollution and as a result there could be a possibility of a motorist queuing across the level crossing being trapped on the railway line if the barriers came down. For these reasons, there are no plans to convert the existing zebra crossings into signalised pedestrian crossings.

We have reviewed these points and differ with SCCh.

The idea of traffic light controlled pedestrian crossings is to regulate the flow of pedestrians to improve the flow of traffic and reduce pollution. It is obvious to us that the pollution saved from relieving traffic jams at busy times vastly outweighs any increased waiting times at slack times. Presently, pedestrians cross in dribs and drabs causing traffic to stop far more often than they would with a traffic light controlled crossing.

In the southbound direction, the pedestrian crossing is its own bottleneck. The pavement is very narrow on the east side and flows of pedestrians heading to or from the station cause the traffic to slow to about 10mph in case they are about to use the crossing. With a traffic light controlled crossing vehicles could safely pass much faster allowing traffic queues to dissipate much quicker thus significantly reducing pollution.

If the proposed pedestrian lights were connected to the level crossing lights so that they go to red at the same time, southbound A217 traffic would not have a confusion of lights. For northbound traffic, having travelled over the level crossing, the driver has multiple hazards to look out for. With the possibility of pedestrians wanting to cross from either side and then the junction with Holmesdale Road and Birkheads Road, converting the crossing to traffic light operation would make the driver’s task simpler.

At most times of day, the zebra crossing causes cars to queue beyond the level crossing. The gates are operated by the signalman in the signalbox while looking at the road. The SCCh answer seems to imply that the signalman would be less able to do his job if there were traffic lights on the zebra crossing. This risk depends on a number of factors, the overall level of traffic being the main one.

No doubt, SCCh would disagree with our view and we recommend a study into the traffic flow to conclusively decide on the best way of smoothing the traffic on the A217.

There have been meetings with MP Crispin Blunt’s representative and a SCC County Councillor regarding the state of the A217. Thes discussions have now lapsed and we have been unable to restart them.

In summary, we seem to be sleepwalking into a divided town with no one taking an interest in any action to solve the problem. A study on the A217 traffic flow and another for a long term solution are hardly going to break the bank. In our view, continued inaction is not acceptable.

© Reigate and Redhill Society 1952 - 2024