Navigation Road Level Crossing – is this your experience? ….

Posted on March 28th, 2011, by The Chairman

A member writes ….

I’ve just finally got around to joining MCRUA, being a frequent user of the Mid-Cheshire line. I was wondering whether I could ask you about an issue which I suspect you may be aware of and which frequently affects me – indeed it did today.

The issue is the way in which the Navigation Road level crossing is managed. As you’ll probably know, there’s no footbridge at this station, and the crossing, used by both trams and trains, is controlled by Deansgate Lane signal box. What appears to happen is that, especially in the case of Manchester-bound trains, the signaller “sets the road” for the train before it has even arrived at Altrincham, even where it is due to wait for two or more minutes in Altrincham before continuing its journey towards Navigation Road and Stockport.

This means that the barriers stay down for up to four minutes before the train comes. It is not connected with Metrolink as it happens as often when no trams are approaching.

The upshot of this is that for any would-be passengers approaching from the west along Navigation Road itself, we are physically prevented from catching our train.

This is both exceptionally inconvenient – with the terrible hourly service we have one has no choice but to take Metrolink which itself adds almost an hour to a southbound rail journey – and also dangerous: people are encouraged to “run the risk”: one morning recently I witnessed a girl some way in front of me being injured by a descending gate striking her head as she tried to run across, four minutes ahead of the booked arrival of the Manchester-bound train. I once saw a near neighbour crossing the track at the non-crossing end of the platform to catch a (two-hourly!) Sunday train as she took the view she simply had no choice.

Clearly the only real solution is a footbridge. However, a solution which I would suggest could be implemented immediately would be an instruction (reminder?) issued by Network Rail (possibly in the first instance coming from Northern?) to the Deansgate Junction signaller not to “set the road” for a stopping passenger service to leave Altrincham until its actual timetabled departure time. This would have no effect on punctuality (the train would still be able to leave Altrincham even without this, as it would have a yellow signal), and would at least reduce this absurd situation to a maximum of two minutes (slightly less ideally) before booked train departure from Navigation Road during which time it would be impossible to reach the Northern platform from the west.

What do you think?

I very much look forward to hearing from you, as I think there is a potential “quick win” here. (Today I was nearly an hour late for a meeting as a result of the above!)

Please leave a comment

  1. Vince Chadwick Says:

    In BR days many signals were removed to save money, making ‘blocks’ longer. Has this happened here?

    Would the signalling allow a train to enter Altricncham station without ‘having the road’ right through to Navigation Road station?

  2. Mick Says:

    Vince: Yes, it would.

    Your general point is right, but I think it doesn’t apply here. As I understand it, for a northbound train from Altrincham, if the crossing were not cleared, the train would still get a yellow signal at the station allowing it to go as far as the point where the double track becomes single. It’s only after that that it could not proceed until the crossing is cleared.

  3. Mike Battman Says:

    I live on the Northern Rail side of the station and use both the trains and trams additionally I use the crossing as both a pedestrian and a motorist. Because of where I live, accessing the Chester line diesels is not a problem, but the early closing of the crossing gates is a bugbear of mine too for reasons relating to the trams or when I am driving or walking over them.

    It should be stated that this is a very busy section of track, 20 trams an hour, plus two diesels and freight trains at about one an hour. Even if the crossings are closed efficiently you can expect them to be closed for in excess of 20-minutes every hour.

    It can be made worse depending on which signalman is operating the Deansgate Lane box at the time. I’m assuming the box is operated on a shift system, because one signalman in particular is very ‘cautious’ with his/her opening and closing strategy. The normal mode of operation (ie when the 6-minute service is operating) is that an Altrincham bound tram passes the crossings quickly followed by a Manchester bound tram with the gates remaining closed.

    The trams have fitted a train protection system of some sort that means that if a driver goes through a signal at danger the brakes are automatically applied. Consequently, trams heading towards Altrincham should arrive at the station with the signal at red and the crossings open to road and foot traffic. The gates should then be shut and the signal changed to green allowing the tram to proceed whilst passengers are embarking and disembarking. Allowing for the tram arriving from Altrincham this should be achievable in not much longer than a minute.

    However, the ‘cautious’ (or should I say lazy?) signalman instead of waiting for the Altrincham bound tram to arrive at Navigation Road before closing the crossings shuts them at the same time as Deansgate Lane crossing is shut. This adds a not inconsiderable time to the gates being closed, I’ve not timed this but I would guess an additional minute; leading to an additional 10-minutes per hour when the gates are down.

    The obvious, although not cheap, solution would be a footbridge…. I’m not holding my breath!

    For the tram users an additional ticket machine near the crossings on the Northern Rail side of the station would be an asset, as it would enable them to purchase tickets whilst waiting for the gates to open.

  4. Morris Minor Says:

    I always use Navigation Road for any train I am going to catch, because I don’t have to climb the stairs at Altrincham Station. They do not get a regular clean and some times have an odour similar to a public toilet.

    The gate problem does not bother me as I always allow plenty off time for catching a Northern Rail train, but then my moans start:
    – no information at all if a train is delayed
    – if it is poor weather, a shelter that probably holds three, four at the most.

    The train then pulls up away from this luxury.

    Perhaps Navigation Road station is a thorn in Northern Rail’s side.

    Close it and you will all have to go to Altrincham.

  5. Ian Says:

    Navigation Road needs improvements but Knutsford, Northwich, Greenbank and Hale are also inferior to Altrincham.

  6. Ellesmere Road Says:

    I occasionally use Navigation Road station when visiting my dentist in Ellesmere Road on the west side of the crossing.

    Like Mike’s, my experience is very variable. The time before last when I used the crossing, I just missed getting through it from the west before it came down. I decided to time it – 9 minutes until the barriers came up including 4 minutes when there was no sign of a tram or a train coming in either direction.

    Whilst there is no doubt users need to be responsible and not cross the tracks by walking across them whilst the barriers are down, Network Rail employees also need to play their part by being responsible and not leaving the barriers down for longer than necessary.

  7. Dave Says:

    As an ex Tram user from Navigation Road (now a Train user from Northwich), I used to drive and park at Navigation Road and often I would sit there for ages with the Level Crossing Gates down and no train or Tram in sight.

    The wait could often be 5 mins or more!

    I think it would be a lot better if the signalman at Deansgate Lane Crossing should be made aware of the delays he/she is causing and be told not to put the crossing down too early.

  8. Mick Says:

    This Tuesday, barriers were lowered at 07:58:30 (plus/minus about 10 seconds!) for the 08:04 train departure to Manchester. Yes, there were trams (two I believe) in the interim, but there was then at least a 2-minute gap, and again it was clear that the route had been set very prematurely for the train.

    5 1/2 minutes really is a very long time – and I note that while the barriers did rise again just before the 08:04 actually left, the guard didn’t think to look back towards the crossing rather than forwards along his train.

    I don’t think anybody was actually left behind, but only by dint of making a mad rush (potentially itself dangerous over a level crossing and up a ramp, both of which entail unavoidable trip hazards).

    I would say we do have a problem here – and one which could be greatly mitigated, though not totally avoided in the short term.

  9. The Chairman Says:

    It’s been suggested it would be useful if those experiencing the barriers being down for extended periods for no apparent reason keep records of the dates and times.

    Can I suggest these dates/times then be posted here as a comment, or else emailed to me and I’ll summarise them.

    Let’s do this up to 30 June. I suspect the signallers will know this is being done, so it may be the problem will appear to reduce or even go away, fingers crossed!

  10. The Chairman Says:

    We hear that the signallers now seem to be trying hard to keep the barriers down for the minimum time necessary without impacting on the passage of trains or trams.

    However, it seems there’s been some recent activity of the wrong sort!

    David Miller has spotted a recent BTP press release on Navigation Road level crossing

  11. Mike Battman Says:

    I must admit, I’ve not noticed an improvement.

    Re the BTP press release. If they put a Metrolink ticket machine on the Northern Rail side of the crossings many of these ‘incidents’ could be avoided. If whilst waiting for the crossings to open people could buy their tickets; it would give the fitter and younger ones a fighting chance of catching the tram when the crossings finally open.

  12. Mick Says:

    I’d agree that the signallers do seem to be trying hard. Personally I had a long wait and nearly missed a train yesterday after 2 trams had passed and the barriers remained down, but fortunately it was an Up train and I was able to board while it was still at Navigation Road station. Also in defence of the signaller, the train was already around 4-5 minutes late so it was perhaps an understandable decision.

    It’s to be hoped also that Northern’s guards are aware that, when operating Up trains here, they should check back over the crossing that there is nobody trying to board before giving the driver the right-away to proceed towards Stockport – so long as doing so would not delay the train unacceptably of course.

    Of course the real solution is a f**tb****e….!

  13. Mike Battman Says:

    Well, I think I encountered my longest ever wait at these crossings today!

    I was in the car and travelling from Broadheath, I came to a halt and I was about the 10th vehicle in the queue (which is an indication that they had not just shut), it was 15:03.
    Two trams went through, with a lengthy gap before the Manchester bound tram appeared, we then waited at least 3-minutes for the 15:06 Northern Rail to Stockport/Piccadilly, by which time the next pair of trams were due.
    The crossings finally opened at about 15:14, after 4 trams and a diesel.

    Then BTP wonder why people jump the lights and gates!

  14. Paul W Says:

    My record at Deansgate Lane crossing is 4 trams and two diesels – one each way! I agree some crossing keepers seem not to get the balance right between car and train.

  15. Conductor Says:

    In fairness to the Deansgate Jn Signaller, he/she will be controlling one of the busier boxes in the North West. You have to control 3 level crossings at Hale, Nav Road and Deansgate Jn. They will be then also be under pressure for setting routes from 4 separate single lines junctions at Deansgate Jn and south of Nav Rd. Add into account, clearing signals and trying to minimise delays for trains it’s a high pressure job. Trams at 6 minutes in each direction, up to 4 trains an hour at peak and then freight trains is very, very busy. Then you may have a situation of failures, cautioning trains because a local has decided to place objects on the track near Northenden, I can imagine it being a very hard and stressful box to work. Signallers are also in the spot light after a fatal collision between a car and train after the Signaller raised the barriers when a train was approaching at speed.

    Most Chester bound trains arriving at Navigation Road usually arrive at xx42 and aren’t due to depart til xx44.

    Ideas I would suggest is..

    – A member of MCRUA arranging a visit with a Network Rail rep to visit Deangate Jn box to understand the workings of the crossings between Hale and Skelton/Timperley.
    – Putting pressure on TfGM and Network Rail to build a footbridge. Think it could be hard and expensive as the overhead lines are higher on Metrolink lines?
    – Ask Northern to retime Chester trains to depart Navigation Road at xx43, the train would be right time at Hale (in theory!!)

  16. Paul W Says:

    I totally accept that Deansgate Lane is a busy box – seems to be two staff working there a lot of the time?

    Part of the problem is identified above:
    ” Most Chester bound trains arriving at Navigation Road usually arrive at xx42 and aren’t due to depart til xx44. ”

    The barriers are dropped at Navigation Rd in advance of the Chester trains arrival – thus take a couple of minutes – and usually a pair of trams, before they go back up. – A long time closed to road and foot passengers. Also the Manchester bound tram is held a long way from the crossing, so has to wait for the Altrincham bound tram to clear the signal near the flyover methinks, before they get clear to go, another delay in the whole process.

    I am not criticising the individuals – rather the process needs looking at. One quote in the paper was that BTP have already given advice to the Signaller (!)

  17. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Conductor!

    Since the original post in March last year, Network Rail kindly arranged for two visits to the ‘box for MCRUA and the Community Rail Officer to better understand the workings, and for the signallers to better understand the frustrations at the crossing for users. I think it’s fair to say all involved found these very informative, constructive and helpful.

    As you say, there are 2 signallers in the ‘box, but it’s worked by 1 signaller only on a 1 hour on, 1 hour off basis, the other signaller being backup. The Network Rail manager who organised this had not been in the ‘box previously and was astonished how intensive it was for the 1 person working it. Believe me, it’s very intensive! It’s certainly not a ‘box for signallers who like the idea of coping with one or two trains an hour and catching up with their reading the rest of the time!

    The signallers all said that if we thought the crossing was down for extended periods unnecessarilly, it would be helpful to know exactly the times and dates and then to let them know. Apparently the sequences can be replayed through TRUST and they can take a view on whether things could have been done differently and whether there’s anything to learn.

    Overall, I’ll got the definite impression the signallers try hard to do a good job, and appreciate our input.

  18. Mike Battman Says:

    It is good to know that Network Rail are aware of and are actively trying to improve the situation. I must admit, I can’t say that I’ve seen an improvement but certainly one of the shifts is better than the other. (I’m assuming there are 2 shifts)

    I think the biggest win for cars/passengers/pedestrians would be if the crossings were not shut until the Altrincham bound trains/trams were ready to leave. Currently this does not happen often enough; all too often the crossings are closed whilst the tram/train is still approaching. I suspect that Navigation Road crossings are closed at the same time as Deansgate Lane crossings! This adds a significant amount of time to when the crossings are shut.

    The addition of a Metrolink ticket machine on the Northern Rail side of the crossing would also help; at least for non-season ticket holders your time is not totally wasted if you can be buying your ticket.

  19. Conductor Says:

    Thanks for the insight, Chairman. It’s good to hear about the 1 on, 1 off system they have!

    From my experience, a lot of level crossings are closed prior to a train arriving not just at Navigation Road. I presume this is for the reason for risk of overrun, SPAD or starting against a red signal causing a SPAD/signal passed at danger. There are a few multi-SPAD signals in the Navigation Rd area that have been passed at over the years.

    A Metrolink ticket machine on the Northern side would be good and bad. I can see it been mostly bad due to the amount of Northern passengers that would get on with Metrolink tickets, not uncommon at Altrincham station. It’s highly regretful that as Conductors we have to charge passengers for a new orange rail ticket. Has Navigation Rd station got CCTV on the Northern side? I can’t remember from memory as a ticket machine being placed here would require CCTV. Not to mention the stumbling point of leasing some form of space off Northern for the placement. I can see too many hoops to jump through for this idea I’m afraid.

  20. Mike Battman Says:

    Interesting, but they appear to me to be surmountable problems.
    Apart from the frieght trains; I can see no reason why the diesels cannot be controlled in this instance by the existing ATP (or equivalent system)
    Trains coming from Stockport are at a crawl when coming through Skelton Junction; trains coming from Chester have already stopped at Altrincham; if the crossings are closed at the same train as the train departs Altrincham that’s fine.
    The ATP system on the trams is proven (I’ve even experienced it once)so again, I don’t see a problem with trams from Timperley; the crossings in most cases remain closed to await the tram from Altrincham.
    Regarding the ticket machine; surely a big sign saying “Tram Tickets Only” would solve 98% of the problem of wrong tickets.
    If a machine was being installed on the NR side of the station, cables would have to be run across the tracks, a cctv camera could easily be added.

    If the BTP are serious about the issue of stopping crossing transgressions, they should stop making excuses and take on board some of these ideas.

  21. Mick Says:

    The ticketing point can (under the new franchise?) – and hopefully before too long will – be cured once and for all by simply having tickets inter-available. It’s a bizarre anomaly that they are not at present. Only in (non-London) Britain would you have light and heavy rail side by side but with almost entirely independent ticketing!

    On the crossing problem, I’ve continued to monitor this sporadically, and certainly there have again been recent instances of 5-minute waits where the barriers have remained down when clearly the Manchester-bound train hasn’t left ALT yet. I missed such a train on 13 March (I believe it was the 13:06 departure) when this happened.

    Could we also ask Northern conductors to try to remember to check (a glance would do) along the platform towards the crossing before giving the right-away? I know that they have a hard job to do and it’s easy to forget, but until we get the service levels we ought to have on this line, one hour is a very long time to have to wait! Thanks!

  22. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    A new steps-only footbridge was installed at Elsenham station following the tragic deaths of the two girls there in 2005. A picture is here:

    So something similar could be done at Navigation Road but I suspect that it would take a fatality before TfGM and the rail industry would be prepared to erect one.

  23. Jen Says:

    There’s a footbridge at Freshfield station (8 trains per hour) with disabled passengers directed to the adjacent level crossing.

  24. Luke Says:

    Last Saturday (19 May) I walked to Navigation Road from the west to catch the 1244 Chester train. I arrived at 1238 and the barriers were down. An Altrincham-bound tram came through, followed almost immediately by a Piccadilly-bound tram. The barriers remained down for another 2 minutes before the Chester-bound train came into view. I realised at this point I had missed my train. It was so frustrating, especially since I’d arrived in good time for the train!!

  25. Mick Says:

    Luke, thanks for posting this – it’s very important, I think, that people continue to report these incidents. Hopefully MCRUA will keep the pressure up on this?

    As has been said above, we do need a footbridge; with about 15 movements per hour during the daytime, it’s not too much to ask… And I’d be inclined to agree that it would not be disproportionately discriminatory against the disabled if the footbridge were steps-only, given that the disabled would be no worse off than at present.

    Finally, I’m still seeing conductors of Manchester-bound trains forget to glance backwards towards the crossing to check for hurrying passengers before giving the RA! Please don’t forget – it makes a very big difference!

  26. Andrew Macfarlane Says:


    You could try shouting “hang on” or something similar to inform the conductor that you wish to catch that train. Also if I am waiting for a Manchester-bound train and see people waiting at the crossing on the west side I shout to them and ask if they want the train. If they do, I inform the conductor when the train arrives. Others could do likewise. Of course it would help if trains didn’t stop so far down the platform. One benefit of being on the west side of the crossing of course is that you have unimpeded access to Metrolink at all times.

  27. Mike Battman Says:

    I think this is again a signalling issue; as Luke says, “The barriers remained down for another 2 minutes before the Chester-bound train came into view.”
    In other words, if the signalman was alert he/she could have opened the crossings between the tram and the diesel.

  28. Edd Says:

    As operators have targets for how long you should have to queue at a ticket office before boarding, should similar targets exist for Network Rail keeping the crossing gates down?

  29. Mick Says:

    Edd, I suspect that this would in practice be rather difficult, because of the vast variety of situations at different points around the national rail network where there are level crossings – and, like many such benchmarks, could lead to perverse results in practice, and conflicts with other imperatives such as trains’ performance.

    It’s more an issue, in the short term, of ensuring that signallers remain properly trained and “on the ball” – and in the longer term of providing our footbridge.

  30. Mike Battman Says:

    Here’s a radical suggestion…Add traffic lights to the crossings which will operate as they do in town and other tram/road interchanges when a tram approaches; but the gates only shut when a diesel/goods train goes through.
    So that pedestrians can still cross before/after the trams as they do at Old Trafford and all the Manchester stops.

  31. The Chairman Says:

    David Miller has spotted the following for this afternoon ….

    You could be forgiven for not knowing that today is International Level Crossing Awareness Day. BTP will be “staging an operation” at Navigation Road between 1500 and 1900.


  32. Mike Battman Says:

    Well, I could very well be alighting a tram at NR around 6:00-7:00pm; the slight problem is, it’ll be after attending a friends leaving do and I’ll have had a few beers. I could get arrested!!!

  33. Mike Battman Says:

    I managed to talk to the gentleman (Transport Police) handing out the leaflets; I made it clear that although I sympathised with their plight, they had to sort out the length of time the crossings were closed for.
    I got off one tram and the crossings were already closed and cars waiting; I spoke to him until the next Altrincham tram arrived….and sods law, they didn’t close the gates until it was ready to leave the station. I couldn’t believe it, that rarely happens.

  34. The Eye Says:

    The worst I’ve ever encountered was just after Christmas. 14 minutes the barriers were down for … 2 trams – 1 train – 2 trams – 1 train – 2 trams. My kids were practically late for school, despite allowing an extra ten mins to cover us a ‘barrier incident’!! A tweet to Network Rail was put down in a quite patronising manner!

  35. The Chairman Says:

    It looks like talk of closing Navigation Road level crossing has gone away.

    Here’s a couple of articles spotted by one of our members ….

    Article from SAM re the crossings…

    Also an article and video regarding a schoolboy getting stuck…

  36. Vince Chadwick Says:

    Presumably the crossing gates have to be closed to road traffic for a Chester-bound train arriving until it has come to a stop at the platform just in case it over-runs the station due sliding on a greasy rail, or the driver braking too late. If the gates were open for road traffic and that happened there’d almost certainly be a very serious accident on that busy road.

    I am a signaller on a heritage railway and part of my training was to be a crossing keeper for a while at a station with a road crossing, just like Navigation Road. I always ensured the gates were closed to road traffic before signalling the train into the platform even if the train was stopping at that station, just in case it over-ran and went through the gates.

    Whether it’s worth opening the gates to road traffic after the train has stopped and closing them again for its departure is a moot point, as the station dwell time at navigation Road is quite short. It also depends on the presence of a starter signal at the southern end of the platform to protect the crossing until it has closed to road traffic. I don’t know whether Navigation Road has such a signal.

  37. Mike Battman Says:

    I do wonder if they just floated the idea to see what the reaction would be? Now, hopefully they’ll concentrate on closing Deansgate Lane crossings to coincide with the signal box closure

  38. Dave Says:

    Just before Christmas the level crossing gates failed in the down position and there appears to be no phone at the crossing to enable you to call the signal box. As a result after a long wait people rang Network Rail from their mobiles and then decided to cross the track from both directions. Car drivers had no option but to attempt 3 point turns, as a result it was chaos. Does anyone know why there is no phone for the signal box, does Network Rail assume that everyone has a mobile phone?

  39. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    As far as I know there is only an obligation to provide a telephone at Automatic Half-Barrier level crossings. It would be good if Network Rail had a member of staff on the ground when the barriers fail at Navigation Road.

  40. Andy M Says:

    I live near to the Navigation Road crossing and have seen so many incidents/near misses over the years. Just before Xmas two teenagers jumped the barriers and ran in-front of a northbound tram to catch it. Reported it to NR but no action taken. Network Rail have a temporary camera on a mast up now and often the BTP camera van is there to catch drivers running the lights. Barriers have also been broken in down position at least 4 times in last year. In the morning at 8:40 to 8:50 the traffic queues around the block as barriers are often down for 5-10 minutes. Personally I would support a footbridge. Recently, Jan 2015 NR have said that Navigation Road is not part of the current LX closure programme to 2019 which contradicts comment by council road safety dept in 2014 that the LX may be closed in future. The ECML closure programme is going ahead despite some opposition so that may form a model for closure on other lines including Navigation Road.

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