Wheelchair users face rail footbridge woe

Wheelchair users are facing a lengthy diversion if plans for a footbridge over a railway line go ahead.

Network Rail wants to remove level crossings at Dawdon as part of a scheme to upgrade signals along the East Durham coast.

Crossing the tracks on foot near Princess Road and at the town's station would be stopped once footbridges are installed.

But steps up to the proposed bridge could be a problem for people with prams and those with wheelchairs using the popular crossing through George Street Industrial Estate.

They would have to go along the steep stretch between the roundabout at Maureen Terrace to New Strangford Road, on to Tempest Road and then use one of the paths to get to shops and services.

Coun Bob Arthur, who represents the Dawdon ward on Durham County Council, said: "There is growing concern from people and they have been on to me about this because the bridge would not be suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

"It's a main thoroughfare that's going to be closed off and a lot are going to have to take a long walk round."

Sue Mole is a member of Seaham Physically Disabled Club and several health campaign groups, and suffers from asthma and osteoporosis.

The 49-year-old, of Malborough, said: "People don't realise how well used it is. There are lots of parents and families who take their children to school and nursery.

"I understand why they are doing it, but we really do feel they should look at it again."

Network Rail has said Seaham station will have its level crossing upgraded after it had to abandon efforts to reinstate a subway.

A spokeswoman said: "We are completing the resignalling of the Durham coast route. As part of this we wanted to remove the level crossings at both Dawdon and Seaham.

"At Dawdon the plan is to install a stepped bridge, step-free access will be via Tempest Road.

"We appreciate that this will add to journey times for those who need step-free access, but it is a necessary move for us to further improve safety for all users of the railway.

"However, at Seaham we needed to install a footbridge and an underpass so that while the bridge would have steps, those with mobility impairment would be able to use the underpass.

"Unfortunately, we were unable to secure the land needed for the underpass and so we will complete work to upgrade the existing level crossing.

This is disappointing as we are keen to remove level crossings from the network where possible and this signalling scheme was a good opportunity to do so."