The Gates, Frinton-on-Sea
Peter Schuyler Bruff (1812-1900) was the Engineer instrumental in bringing about the opening in 1863-7 of the Hythe to Walton-on-Naze railway line via the Tendring Hundred Railway. As with most of the lines in East Anglia it amalgamated with the Great Eastern Railway (incorporated in 1862).
At first there was just an ‘unofficial’ halt in Frinton-on-Sea but an influx of new visitors and the growing reputation of Frinton-on-Sea as a weekend resort prompted the Great Eastern Railway Company to build a station there.
Frinton-on-Sea began to develop at the same time as the line with the Gatehouse being built in 1867 and then the Railway Station which features two unique circular windows to the front façade, being built in 1888.
Frinton-on-Sea’s famous ‘Gates’ history can, therefore, be traced back to the 1880s and its semaphore signals were, until recently, the only signals of this type still working on a main line in Essex (the only others exist on a couple of shunt lines at Clacton-on-Sea). In the 1960s and 1970s a new development to the north of the railway named the Homelands brought about the difference of being either inside or outside ‘The Gates’.
In the Spring of 2005, Network Rail approached Essex County Council's Highways Department to seek approval for altering the existing road layout outside the 'Gates' in order to justify their proposal to replace the 'Gates' with a modern remote controlled CCTV barrier system. This proposal put under threat a fully-functioning manual system manned twenty-four hours a day 365 days a year with a proven safety record. The replacement would be a bland standard modern model that the local community objected to not only on the grounds of it being less safe, but also because of anticipated problems with failure and lock downs which would disrupt entry and exit from the town. Also, the road layout suggested by Network Rail's Architects was not agreed as nobody wanted to be responsible if it failed.
Then in September 2006, Network Rail arranged a Statutory Consultation Meeting with Tendring District Council (the only recognised authority). This was held at Clacton-on-Sea, and chaired by Mr John Tilly, the Principal of HM Railways Inspectorate and Mr Garry England, Network Rail's Project Manager. It was followed up with an invitation to Network Rail officials to attend the Frinton Residents' Association’s meeting in October 2006 where Mr Garry England and his Chief Engineer outlined Network Rail's proposals; the main thrust of which was to replace old searchlight signalling (which was not on the Frinton line where semaphore signalling was still being used), replace track and upgrade eleven level crossings of which seven were manned or gated. The Colchester to Clacton upgrading had a budget of £102 million. A vote taken at that meeting showed that there was no support for Network Rail's proposal to change the existing 'Gates' for a barrier system as the reasoning was that it would be inappropriate at this location due to the juxtaposition of the number of roads, traffic levels (approximately 1 million vehicles) and members of the public (400,000 annually) feeding through the level crossing. Concern for public safety was expressed as being the main reason for objecting to the change.
Throughout the intervening years, it became evident that Network Rail's consultation was actually a briefing and they were not willingly going to meet the wishes of the Town or District Council, let alone the community of Frinton-on-Sea. Despite this, there was continued input opposing the change, from FRA, F&W Town Council, Tendring District Council and many local organisations. Nevertheless, Network Rail pressed ahead with the new road layout even though an independent traffic expert had raised some serious, unanswered practical problems. This then resulted in traffic confusion with the awkward build-outs and new position of the roundabout; all of which were reported to Essex County Council's Highways Department through Tendring District Councillor Nick Turner. At the time of producing this report, the required Third Road Audit has not taken place but should its findings show that there are operational difficulties (which translated means the new road layout does not work properly or as intended) then Network Rail will have a safety issue.
Network Rail were then left with a dilemma. Having blown the £102 million budget - in the process cancelling all the modernisation and rationalisation of track layout at Clacton-on-Sea, and upsetting the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers over members' shambolic treatment on this project - the fact that the very expensive road alteration was now proving less safe than that which existed previously, was directly against their reasoning for making the alterations. However, Mr John Tilly was mindful of making a positive recommendation for Network Rail's proposal to the representative of the Secretary of State for Transport before waiting for the audit on the new road layout. Therefore, finally, instead of the iconic gates being ceremoniously closed on the final shift at 2.00pm on the afternoon of 18 April 2009 (as originally scheduled by Network Rail), both the gates and the gatekeepers' signal box were removed under the cover of darkness at 2.00am that morning.
In conclusion, the Frinton-on-Sea community are not satisfied with the changes made by Network Rail when a better, more suitable and safer solution was given, nor were they happy that the Order agreeing to this work was signed off by Mr Chris Carr, Deputy Director, Rail Standards & Safety, Department of Transport, who explained his action by stating in a letter to the FRA:
". . . After consideration of Network Rail's application, advice from specialists at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR - the independent rail safety regulator) and the representations made by a significant number of local residents and organisations, I have signed the new Order, allowing Network Rail to upgrade the level crossing in Frinton-on-Sea. . . . "
This letter was dated 5 May 2009 and was in response to the final letter the FRA had written to the Secretary of State for Transport dated 31 March 2009.
Now the whole community wholeheartedly hopes that fatalities will not occur at the level crossing at Frinton-on-Sea as has been the case at level crossings with barrier systems elsewhere in the country.
Special Note: The Frinton Residents’ Association would like to thank David Foster for contributing the above information.