Brunel’s Bristol & Exeter Railway reached Weston in 1841. Along with the railway came the Barrow Crossing which is effectively a makeshift path for pedestrians to cross tracks between trains. It might surprise everyone here today that this process nicknamed barrowing is still alive and strong at Weston station and is offered by Great Western Railway to some of the most vulnerable members of society as the only access point to Platform 1.
You might think that the station dates back many years and perhaps hasn’t caught up with the 21st century. That is not the case though as even the original builders of the Station realised the issue and provided a level access point onto platform one. However this was closed recently by Great Western Railway, quoting anti-social behaviour issues, forcing passenger entry either via the many steps over the footbridge or by the barrow crossing. In my view putting back passenger travel in Weston by over 100 years!
Members might be interested to know that Network Rail decided to close barrow crossings at other multiple locations most notably at Downham Market station, citing safety reasons. It is also noteworthy that no reports of anti-social behaviour were made to North Somerset Council concerning platform one entrance, prior to its closure.
To understand this serious problem, we need to recognise those in our community who are not able to climb the footbridge steps. I’ve received over 70 complaints from passengers with luggage, families with buggies, those with bicycles, frail residents, those with mobility issues and others in wheelchairs, to name just some. For those vulnerable people GWR has a plan, simply to insist they cross both tracks by the barrow crossing between trains. Creating quite a spectacle for people watching on both platforms, and embarrassment for those required to undergo it. Of course it’s not quite that simple to use, passengers need to notify staff 3 days beforehand. So if you decide to travel on the day or if your train is expected at platform 2 and is suddenly diverted to platform 1, you’re out of luck!
Make no mistake, though train station staff are helpful, they are busy especially during train arrivals. For numerous passengers who forget to book assistance or just didn’t realise they needed it, they are told, sorry we can’t help!! To add insult to injury, after lobbying the Department of Transport who have recognised the issue and allowed Great Western Railway access to a share of funding to improve access, GWR still haven’t made the application. They say their part of the process may take years not months!
I have asked GWR to open the level access, until the funding is applied, however they refused. I proposed they install an simple phone at the locked platform gate, so staff could be alerted to open it for those that needed assistance, this was also refused. I was also promised a review if passenger were inconvenienced, this also has not happened.
The reason I have brought this proposal to Council is that each day this situation continues, those residents and visitors who most need assistance will continue to have difficulty using the station. There is no doubt that this decision discriminates against some rail passengers and I would ask you all to join with me to register your individual concern by voting for this proposal.
It’s just unbelievable in this modern day and age, that GWR still finds practices used in the 1800s acceptable today. We want visitors to have easy access to our beautiful town and present residents with an alternative to the car. To do this GWR must start playing their part by taking passenger concerns seriously.