Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Train horns are silenced

Train horns are silenced

TRAINS passing through Shiplake no longer have to sound their horns at the village’s two crossings in a safety trial.

Drivers have had to observe “whistle boards” as they approach the crossing immediately north of Shiplake station and the foot crossing just south of the village.

Now Network Rail has suspended the rules during a year-long trial.

It follows complaints from residents who said the noise was disturbing their sleep. Villagers claimed that trains having to sound their horns was excessive as they typically travel at slower speeds on that section of the Henley branch line than other parts.

The debate intensified in 2016, when the statutory “quiet hours”— when drivers must remain silent — were cut in a bid to improve safety.

The horns previously stopped at 11pm and resumed at 7am but this changed to between midnight and 6am. This was compounded by the introduction of a new timetable last year which meant trains would pass through Shiplake every 30 minutes instead of every 45 minutes.

The issue came to a head in January when a driver refused to continue her shift after being asked by Vivien Pheasant, who lives in Lashbrook Road opposite the station, not to blow the horn so harshly.

Great Western Railway, which operates the line, said the driver was “verbally abused” and had been forced to sound the horn aggressively days before the incident because of drunk people leaning on her cabin.

But Mrs Pheasant, whose husband David is deputy chairman of Shiplake Parish Council, said she merely asked politely and the driver responded aggressively.

Two services were cancelled that evening while another driver was found.

Under the trial, which started earlier this month after being approved by the Rail Safety and Standards Board and the Office of the Rail Regulator, drivers must still sound the horn if pedestrians or drivers are in danger.

If it proves successful, it could be introduced in other towns and villages.

Mrs Pheasant said: “It’s brilliant news as it’s what we’ve been working towards for the last four years and I think people who live near the station are going to be very pleased.

“It has been a long process because we’ve effectively changed the rule book but everybody involved has worked as hard and quickly as they could to find a solution.

“When the train is approaching from Henley it’s going at about 20mph and when it leaves the station for Henley it goes through the crossing at about 5mph.

“It was supposed to sound its horn before leaving but there was no sense in that.

“A lot of people have made judgements about this situation without understanding the background.

“This has gone to the very top of the organisations that make decisions on safety and drivers may still sound the horn at their discretion so there is no real difference to safety.”

Network Rail and GWR said they understood people’s frustrations but they couldn’t change the rules without permission from the higher authorities and they worked together to make this possible.

Network Rail would like to eliminate whistle boards nationally and is either closing crossings or replacing them with bridges but says this is not always possible.

It installed CCTV cameras and barriers at Shiplake level crossing in 2013 following a series of accidents in which cars were struck by trains.

A company spokeswoman for said: “After working with the local residents, GWR and our partners in the wider rail industry, an operational trial at Shiplake station road level crossing has been initiated.

“The first of its kind in Britain, the trial removes the requirement for train drivers to sound the train’s horn when starting away from the station and passing over the level crossing.

“The train horn was causing significant noise pollution and while our trial still gives drivers the flexibility to sound the horn if they believe it necessary to warn someone who might be on or near the line, it should result in a significant reduction in train horn noise.

“We have already had a lot of really positive feedback from the local residents, who have welcomed the trial.”

A spokesman for GWR said: “Increasing the frequency of service on the line has unfortunately had a knock-on effect for local residents, so we’re pleased to have been able to work with the community and Network Rail to seek a resolution agreeable to all.”

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