18 May 2009

Frinton's end of an era

It was the day residents of the sleepy Essex town of Frinton-on-Sea had dreaded. Under the cover of darkness, Network Rail (NR) representatives removed the historic wooden railway gates that stood at the only entrance/exit to this fascinating and unique location on Saturday 18 April at 2am.

Plans had been made many years ago to remove the need for signallers along the stretch of route between Clacton-on-Sea and the terminus at Walton-on-the-Naze, where National Express East Anglia operate trains to Colchester. Frinton's station is the penultimate stop before the terminus at Walton.

Now consigned to history - Frinton's signalman closing the gates for an approaching NXEA service.

Frinton residents are fiercely protective of their town - which prohibits overnight coach parking and whose first pub opened as late as 2000. Although being a locality that attracts conservative holidaymakers, the area's council was actually administered by a Labour majority from 1997-2005. Perhaps it was the town's naivety that permitted a BBC documentary called Wonderland to film there during 2007, being screened last year. While a large chunk of the programme focused on the Frinton Gates Preservation Society, another hefty chunk shadowed some of the town's more, er, 'interesting' characters.

NXEA was formerly known as 'One'; prior to that they were known as Great Eastern. Seen here is a Class 321 emu in the latter's livery passing the Frinton gates.

Although not to residents' tastes, the programme did bring to millions the plight of those wanting to retain their manually-operated gates - the main reason being that their removal would detract from the community railway feel the line has and residents were unconvinced by NR's claims that barriers were needed on safety grounds as a result of increased road and rail traffic through the town.

Modern day: NR say automatic barriers are the best way to ensure safety at the crossing with the increased number of trains and road traffic passing over it.

The removal of the gates and installation of remotely-operated automatic barriers forms part of NR's £100 million upgrade of the rail line from Colchester eastwards. The gates are being donated by NR to the Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust for posterity. (GL)