Leven rail link: Network Rail face backlash over plan to close crossings

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Plans to permanently close historic crossing over a rail line as part of the work on the new Levenmouth line have sparked a huge backlash.

Network Rail has been condemned by an MSP who said it was “almost as if they're trying to cause friction between communities.” Peter Grant is now seeking an urgent meeting with Màiri McAllan, Scottish Transport Minister when she visits the railway later this week.

And Thornton Community Council, which has fought to save the DoubleDykes crossing, has warned that if no replacement is provided, the £116m Levenmouth rail project will “leave a bitter legacy for the people and communities of Fife” - and “show that those involved in scoping the project do not know or care for the area.”

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The angry responses came within hours of Network Rail’s announcement that it will close and fence off permanently the points at Waukmill, Doubledykes and Durievale as part of its work to complete the project that will put Leven back on the rail network for the first time in 50 years. The move takes effect from August 31.

Double track section on Levenmouth - part of the new £116m rail project (Pic: Network Rail)Double track section on Levenmouth - part of the new £116m rail project (Pic: Network Rail)
Double track section on Levenmouth - part of the new £116m rail project (Pic: Network Rail)

The community council has pushed to save the historic Doubledykes crossing between the town Coaltown of Balgonie and the Wemyss area, arguing it is well used by cyclists and walkers. Network Rail said the former paths and historic rights of way have been legally extinguished and are no longer open to the public – a claim disputed by the council - and it said it was no longer safe to allow public access as sections of the track are now complete and are part of the operational railway, carrying engineering trains to support the ongoing construction work.

But that sparked an angry response from Peter Grant, MSP for Glenrothes. He said: “We've seen some crassly insensitive stuff from Network Rail over their threat to close three rights of way on the western half of the Levenmouth Rail Link but this really does take the biscuit.

“In the same email that they confirm they intend to "permanently" close all three public routes next week, having previously said there's no money for even one bridge to maintain public access, they also confirm they've started the process of putting in three new bridges further east. It's almost as if they're trying to cause friction between communities a few miles apart. I've asked for an urgent meeting with Scottish Transport Minister when she visits the railway later this week.”

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Thornton Community Council said it would continue to fight to save the crossing.

In a statement, it said: “If no crossing is provided at DoubleDykes the Levenmouth Rail Project will leave a bitter legacy for the people and communities of Fife, particularly the wider Glenrothes area. It will show that those involved in scoping the project, including Fife Council, do not know or care for the area, people or communities they are in the service of and do not authentically consult or engage with them. This even applies to engaging their community councils. It also suggests that the Scottish Government is happy for Scotland's access rights to be defined by Network Rail.”It also said it would scrutinise a number of decisions made in respect of DoubleDykes in the course of the rail project.

“We don't believe it is too late and hold out hope for our politicians intervening, or that someone at Fife Council or the Scottish Government will do the right thing.”

There will also be temporary restrictions at Duniface, Methilhill and Mountfleurie during the building of new bridges over the line at these locations. Proposals are currently going through planning process, and dates when temporary closures will be in place to enable their construction will be confirmed later.

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Network Rail said the majority of the crossing point closures will be permanent, but the three new bridges on the route will maintain connections between communities.

Joe Mulvenna, project manager for the Levenmouth Rail Link project, said: “With significant work ongoing across the route to deliver the stations, signalling and bridges limiting access is now unavoidable as securing the railway boundary will protect the safety of the public. The most effective way of reducing level crossing risk on the railway is to remove crossings and we do not design them into new railways.

“The development of the rail link and associated active travel enhancements has given us the opportunity to reduce the number of crossings and replace some core paths and well-used walking routes with the new bridges which we are building on behalf of Fife Council.”