LNER s new Azuma trains, which operate the service between Skipton and London King's Cross on the Airedale Line, have been fitted with air horns that are deemed to be too quiet to be safe warnings for walkers on the footpath at the point at which it crosses the tracks - despite there being only one London-bound and one return train per day using the stretch.
The group were told that the new trains had been incorrectly fitted with the wrong type of horn and that the closure of the path and crossing were necessary for safety reasons for an initial six-month period.
However, this has now been extended by a further six months and the residents have lobbied Network Rail to re-open the route and requested support from North Yorkshire County Council.
Over 100 villagers gathered and split into groups of 30 or less to demostrate over the issue last weekend.
Local councillor Andrew Brown, who represents Aire Valley, said: “There is a fantastic network of public footpaths around Cononley. Yet North Yorkshire County Council seems to have little interest in keeping them open. A rail company has been allowed to close a much-used route for months simply because someone bought very expensive trains with very cheap horns. We want our footpath re-opened and a proper safe traffic light system installed to permanently fix the problem.”
Network Rail has since agreed to re-open the path in August once further safety work to remove tree cover that affects visibility has been completed.
Operations risk adviser for Network Rail Vicki Beadle said: “We are sorry for any inconvenience which the temporary closure of Flosh level crossing in Cononley is causing.
“The safety of level crossing users is paramount and the temporary closure is necessary following concerns over the train horn audibility on some LNER services.
“Work to resolve this issue is ongoing, but in the meantime, Network Rail is going to carry out further work to improve sighting at the crossing, which would then allow the crossing to reopen.
“We understand how important this crossing is for the community and I would like to reassure residents that we are working to restore access across the railway as soon as possible and we’d like to thank all those impacted for their patience.”
Since their introduction to the East Coast Main Line in 2019, the Azumas have experienced a run of bad luck. Last month the entire Hitachi-manufactured fleet was taken out of service after cracks were discovered in the model, and three trains have been severely damaged in collisions. One train struck another LNER locomotive in a low-speed crash outside a depot in Leeds in November 2019, and another was damaged more recently after hitting livestock on the line. Last week an Azuma was struck by a stolen Range Rover on a level crossing near Doncaster, with the car smashing a window on the train and damaging its bodywork.
A Hitachi spokesperson said: " All air horns used on Class 800 trains comply with the standards that govern sound output levels, as set by the Rail Safety Standards Board. The noise made by the horns on this route is as close to the maximum limit allowed within the current standards.
“The horns were fitted as part of the original design of the fleet and have been used in operation since the successful introduction of the Azuma fleet in May 2019.”