The A49 has reopened at Onibury.
Hopefully, we will never see the like of this again. The A49 was closed for more than nine days. The rail line was replaced by a slow bus service for four weekends in a row, and the previous Sunday. This closure had to happen at short notice because Network Rail had failed to upgrade and repair the Onibury crossing over several years. The result is that trade in Ludlow has been lower than normal.
The diversions were lengthy and often confusing. Many drivers took local diversions, some suitable, some not. Culmington suffered due to the lack of a weight limit on the B4365 to restrict HGVs, especially later in the week as word got out among lorry drivers that this was a viable diversion. It would have been better if the road had been restricted to light vehicles and buses only.
One lesson to be learnt is the same as we have learnt from almost every closure we have seen of late. There must be earlier consultation with local councils. Consultation on this closure only took place once the timing and most of the diversion arrangements had been agreed between government agencies and Shropshire Council. All that local councillors could do was to get the signage improved.
Here Network Rail’s consultants were helpful. We got “Access as usual to Ludlow” signage south of the town. But it wasn’t possible to arrange this north of Ludlow. And everywhere, “access only” signs confused motorists.
I accept that repairs of the Onibury crossing could not be delayed. But they should have taken place sooner and during the winter. This crossing has been a mess for ages.
Several years ago, the barriers broke and blocked the road for days. Since then, there have been several emergency closures for short term repairs. All local people know that you must slow down to well below the (temporary) 40mph limit to cross what must have been the roughest A road level crossing in the country. People from further afield are not aware of this. I hear that it may have been a motorcycle accident that promoted Network Rail to act at last.
The quality and safety of the Onibury crossing has been deteriorating for years. Network Rail could have repaired it at any time. Last winter would have been ideal. But the rail company failed to act, leading to an unprecedented closure and huge diversions at the peak of the tourist season.
It is high time that public bodies such as Highways England and Network Rail had a duty to consider the economic impact of their actions. They should also be told to consult before they finalise arrangements. The people that manage these organisations think that if you improve infrastructure, the economy will boom. But if you strangle local businesses during improvements, there will be not much of a local economy left to boost.