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Where's the proof on crossing closures?

Fresh controversy surrounds the proposed Spalding Western Relief Road as it emerged the county council has no facts and figures on an expected increase in rail freight.

Council proposals could see a £100million road built to link Spalding Common and Pinchbeck - with bridges over the railway at either end.

A main reason for the council wanting to build the road is to "mitigate the significant impact which the rail line has on bisecting Spalding".

A county council report continues: "It's important to stress that there is an expectation of greater levels (of) rail freight in the future which will further increase the level crossing barrier downtime in Spalding."

Following questions from the Spalding Guardian and MP Sir John Hayes, the council's executive member for highways, Richard Davies admitted Network Rail "haven't shared any specific details or figures regarding why they expect an increase in services, what the increase might be or when this might happen".

Network Rail declined to supply figures on any projected increase in rail freight when we asked - suggesting instead that we should contact individual rail companies and saying any information it holds would be "commercially sensitive".

Sir John said: "The county council have said there's an expectation of greater levels of rail freight.

"We need to know by how much and when. This has all been drawn into sharp focus by the growing concerns about the plan for the western relief road and what is vital from now on is the full facts are made publicly available concerning the scheme as Coun Davies has pledged."

We asked Network Rail for the numbers of freight and passenger trains going through Spalding now, and were told 34.But we weren't given a number for any projected increase - or the likely effect on the downtime of Spalding level crossings.

The MP is also pressing Network Rail for answers.

Sir John said: "I would say to build a relief road, we need to know what it is relieving. If congestion is said to be a problem, it's not unreasonable to ask questions about its scale and volume.

"I will certainly be asking Network Rail to explain what their expectations are of rail freight traffic through Spalding as a result of the work they have done to improve the line. It's hard to believe they would have spent that money if they hadn't done the necessary projections of rail freight volumes."

Coun Davies said: "As part of our ongoing discussions with Network Rail about the relief road, they have indicated that we should expect more freight trains passing through Spalding in the future, resulting in more railway barrier downtimes.

"However, at this stage, they haven't shared any specific details or figures regarding why they expect an increase in services, what the increase might be or when this might happen.

"We don't control the railways or train operators, but I expect that any increase in freight will likely come as a result of the upgrade of the GNGE Joint Line back in 2015, coupled with the freight train underpass being built in Werrington"

A Network Rail spokesperson said: "Network Rail is aware of Lincolnshire County Council's aspirations to build a new relief road.

"The Great Northern Great Eastern line (GNGE) was upgraded in 2014 to help meet the growing demand from freight companies and passenger services on the rail network.

"The level of the growth depends on the aspirations of freight and train operators, however the upgrade made sure that the line is capable of accommodating additional services and carrying container traffic.

"This important route supports freight deliveries, upon which our economy relies, as well as providing passenger services."

In February 2018, Spalding and Peterborough Transport Forum claimed Spalding's level crossings could halt road traffic for 24 minutes in every hour once work is completed on a freight train "underpass" at Werrington.

Its chairman, George Scott, said then: "We reckon the railway crossing barriers are going to be down 24 minutes in every hour, and don't forget that's going through the night as well. It's going to be Tallington again."

Mr Scott said this week the underpass is being built for a reason - for freight trains to be diverted - but no one will know the actual number coming through Spalding until the underpass opens in 2020 or 2021.

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