Discussion Forum
Network rail - can we stop the devastation?

From Allan Keep
Thursday, 8 May 2008

Many of you will have seen the reality of Network Rail's policy of trackside clearance on the embankment West of Charlestown - something they have repeated all over the country.From their failure to consult local representatives/ engage in dialogue with residents through their bogus "ecological survey" to their arrogant refusal to even consider sympathetic replanting - Network rail have displayed utter contempt for our valley,it's residents and wildlife.

Everyone wants the railways to be safe. Sensitive and informed trackside management could achieve that - and respect the environment of the valley. But the cheapest and quickest way to do it is to involve no-one, draw a line marking your boundary,employ a load of blokes with chainsaws and tell them to cut down everything they can see and don't worry about clearing up afterwards.
After claiming no further work was planned and apologising for a "mix up" which meant no consultation last time, they are back - and threatening to scar the valley from Hebden to Tod.

They plan to begin on 10th May- that's 3 working days notice.They claim to have conducted a full eco survey..and identified no nesting birds!!Once again,there is no intention to re-plant.

This is corporate environmental destruction on our doorstep.

Many people have already contacted Network Rail to protest or at least voice concern. Make them listen - and don't take no for an answer. Ring (24hrs) 08457 114141
At the very least, we should demand a suspension of cutting until proper consultation and dialogue has taken place. Let Network rail come and meet the people. Their "local" community liaison representatives need to come and see what they have already done. Ask them who did the eco survey and where is it? Make them account for their exact plans - demand they consult our local representatives.

Whatever you do make a noise and involve as many people as possible - let a thousand flowers bloom. Ideas ,contributions,plans for action welcome here.

From Dave H
Friday, 9 May 2008

The fact they claim they are 'no nesting birds' in May in trackside scrub just says it all. Without question that habitat will be packed full of nests, probably with hatched chicks by now. The claim they have done a full survey is at best laughable. After that clain, how can we believe a word they say? Though railway safety is paramount, this style of approach is simply not necessary and is unacceptable. Pick up the phone people - make your voice heard.

From Richard Hopewell and Elsie P Smith
Friday, 9 May 2008

In response to a letter delivered this morning (9.5.08), we telephoned Network Rail about their wholesale destruction of trees in the valley. The people who answered were, of course, only the "front office staff" and had no power to actually do anything beyond noting our comments.

It is typical of the way this scheme has been handled that the letter this morning referred to a previous letter, which had not been delivered. Far be it from me to suggest that the non-delivery of the previous letter might have been deliberate to reduce time available for protest - obviously that could not be true, could it ?

We share the disgust at what we see as Network Rail's high-handed decision to implement this scheme without reference to those affected and the obvious holes in their justification. The lack of nesting birds (in April and May !) shows that not only do they not care about local feelings, they can't even be bothered to create a rational case for their actions. It might have helped if they had extended their destructive tendencies to such things as Tibetan Balsam - the invasive plant which infests the railway embankment and which is using the embankment to spread along the valley.

Is there an organised protest about this problem already in existence ? If not, is there enough local feeling to create such a protest? If anyone is interested, please include us and get in touch.

From Janet Oosthuysen
Saturday, 10 May 2008

Hi. After Allen emailed me, I tried to get in touch with Network Rail but have had no luck. Far be it from me to believe in conspiracy theories but I cant help but think they will only be contactable after the vegetation is cleared.

So what to do? If they are really starting at 12 midnight our options are more limited but I'm for going down there and getting in their way. If they clear it as they have done the land around Eastwood, it'll be disasterous. Do we know where they are starting?

From Mark Wisbey
Saturday, 10 May 2008

Wasn't Chris McCafferty MP in discussion with Network Rail after the Eastwood clearances seeking future assurances? See here

Perhaps an approach to our local MP might help and/or shed light on the result of the discussions she had?

From Elsie P Smith
Saturday, 10 May 2008

Janet - I think that some form of protest would be completely appropriate and justified. However, apart from direct disruption of the workers, is there any way we can officially intervene before the work starts, or is it already too late ? For example, if we had a nother survey done with different results, what effect, if any, would it have?

From Janet Oosthuysen
Saturday, 10 May 2008

Hi Elsie - yes I agree- try the other avenues first. The only worry today was that they were going ahead despite protests but apparently they have postponed it til lst June 1st. The worry then will be if we stop putting pressure and then they just go ahead anyway.

If it comes to it after all other avenues have been exhausted then we may have to protest. We just cant allow the track from Hebden to Tod to look like the devastated area around Eastwood.
Im an old cynic I know but I mistrust corporations even when they say " yes we'll exclude nesting birds"....who's to say they'll look properly??
So dont worry Elsie, I'll put away the flack jacket for now....but we have to keep up the pressure. And maintain a healthy scepticism and a close eye.

From Allan Keep
Saturday, 10 May 2008

Network rail have now suspended their work unil the beginning of June. I like to think this is because of the pressure we have exerted. They have made an ongoing committment to protect any nests they find which is good. They also seem to have firmed up their intention to leave a screen of trees on both embankmnet sides where residents are affected.

They have yet to find time to speak to me although they have replied in writing.. the usual cut and paste job that says nothing new. Different people may have heard different things.. Janet Battye referred to a downgrading of their work and removing for safety only. My neigbour feels sure they won't come over the embankment on to the inhabited side.. at least where we are. My view is that as many people as possible keep the pressure on.. throwing out the sense of a concession is the oldest trick in the book and if we go quiet they will take the opportunity to do what they like.. as at Eastwood. I for one would still like to know exactly what their plans are along the whole valley.

From Elsie P Smith
Sunday, 11 May 2008

Thanks for the replies. My partner and I will be attending the Blackshaw Parish Council meeting tomorrow evening to inform them and Peter Coles has promised to raise the matter with Calderdale Council tomorrow. Our neighbours are taking it up with our local MP.

In the meantime, we view the "postponement" of the work with some scepticism. Last night at about 3.00 am there was a work crew on the line in Charlestown, just by Able Fuels coal yard. There is no evidence of tree cutting having been done, but equally so, there is no evidence of new rails having been laid. Network Rail's reputation for mis-information is, of course, legendary. Is it possible that the "postponement" is just another example of it?

From Allan Keep
Monday, 12 May 2008

For those that would prefer to email and not be replied to as opposed to phoning... you can try CRNW@netwrokrail.co.uk

From Andrew Hall
Thursday, 15 May 2008

Whilst I sympathise with the sentiments expressed in this discussion topic, I do have to say that there are counter arguments.

Nobody can claim that the clearance of the railway embankments is tantamount to the destruction of a wildlife corridor. Let's face it, the whole of the valley is a wildlife corridor. Stand on the rocks at Horsehold and you'll see what I mean. Trees, more trees, fields, chlorophyll everywhere! For Network Rail to cut a swathe through this greenery is no big deal. A few meters of open land in an otherwise tree-packed valley will most definitely not upset the balance of nature.

Most people who travel by train actually enjoy looking out at the scenery, rather than a thick wall of trees. I had the misfortune to travel on the Aire valley line to Carnforth a few years ago. You had no idea where you were because of the foliage. It was dull, dull, dull! A similar trip recently, after Network Rail had cleared the embankments, actually gave you an impression of the countryside you were travelling through. It was a marvellous experience.

Anyone who travels on the Calder Valley, and many other lines, will know that they curve a lot. Trees on curves can seriously restrict drivers' views of approaching signals. The Calder Valley line, like the LNWR line through Huddersfield, was build for reasonably high speed. It is vital that signals are visible at the earliest opportunity. Ask any freight train driver how long it takes to stop a fully laden train.

Leaf fall on railways causes major problems, not only causing slippage, but also interfering with track circuitry. This has serious implications for health and safety. If a signal box doesn't know that a train has entered its section, the results could be catastrophic.

And so we get to the birds. Yes, I'm all for nesting birds - so, and I'm copying this post to Network Rail, why not arrange to do the work in Autumn? I don't know of any birds that nest then.

Have the 'antis' actually considered why Network Rail is doing this? No company spends money unnecessarily. This is especially true of Network Rail, which is effectively controlled by the government and subject to very stringent cost controls. Why spend hundreds of thousands on employing outside contractors to clear their embankments and cuttings, if there is genuinely no need? It doesn't make sense. They really wouldn't do it if it wasn't necessary!

Network Rail is trying to provide us with a modern, efficient railway system that assists trains to run on time. It's not there to provide a wildlife oasis, or be the guardian of flora and fauna. Most of the staff are former British Rail and Railtrack workers and do have quite a lot of expertise in their field. Why not let them get on with it, rather than putting spanners in their works and giving us a second rate transport system that is the laughing stock of Europe and the world?

From Anne H
Thursday, 15 May 2008

My ecology is a little rusty, so please correct me if you know better. But two things I do know. One is that this is not the destruction of a wildlife corridor. A wildlife corridor connects two habitats that would otherwise not be connected, and across which wildlife could not otherwise travel. This area of land at Charlestown is clearly not the only stretch that connects the various areas of woodland along the Calder Valley, and in any case most animals can cross it – provided there isn’t a train coming or they use a bridge!

The second is that the vegetation alongside railway lines throughout the country is generally the typical ‘colonising’ vegetation that you find on disturbed sites. That’s because this land is frequently disturbed – of necessity. Railtrack need to manage their land and this involves, among other things, cutting down trees for safety reasons.

The vegetation you will find at Eastwood, where the trees were chopped down only a few weeks ago, is typical of colonising vegetation – rose bay willow herbs, brambles, ferns and (unfortunately these days) Himalayan balsam. In another month or two we will see a variety of butterflies and other insects that are typical of those that you find in clearings in woodlands and forests, but not in continuous dense woodland. Saplings are no doubt starting to grow there and in a few years will be recognisable as young trees, and so the cycle will continue.

The railways themselves form one very long wildlife corridor, connecting one area of ‘colonising’ vegetation with another.

Admittedly, when the trees have just been cut it looks unsightly, but we do not have a god-given right to a scenic view on this particular bit of Railtrack’s land.

The other problem is nesting birds. Railtrack should schedule this kind of work when the birds are not nesting, and if residents or our MP are going to pressurize them to do anything it should be to make sure they do this. Though not at the expense of rail passenger safety.

From Janet Oosthuysen
Saturday, 17 May 2008

I understand where you're coming from Andrew. But the truth of the matter is that network rail have a company policy of clearing 15 yards either side of the rail-no matter what! Apparently there are bats there too which will really stymie their plans - but for how long?

Yes we need efficiency on our railways, but the real truth of the matter is that when it was British Rail, people were employed to cut back trees quite calmly on either side of the track on a regular basis. That is the fundamental problem.

This one size fits all "solution" from Network Rail is a money based solution. And not so surprisingly, its part of an integrated transport debate. If we continue to have profit based companies we won't get community based solutions.

And I understand your point Anne about the type of vegetation. But how can it ever be good to visit the Eastwood style devastation on any area?

Thers a public meeting on Thursday next week at Riverside school at 7.30. Lets all go and debate this with the network rail officers- and each other!

From Richard Hopewell
Friday, 23 May 2008

To Anne H, I have to say that anyone who thinks that growths of rose bay willow herb can be regarded as anything other than disastrous, then they really don't know much about the plant. Third only to Tibetan Balsam and Japanese Knotweed in its' capacity to kill all other forms of growth, it is an appalling thing to have growing anywhere, let alone giving it a running start on a bare embankment.

To Andrew - why were you not at the meeting last evening, to hear your fellow citizens raising their objections to the planned work? Had you been there, you would have heard that Network Rail claim to have had an ecology survey done, but they won't let anyone see it. They claim it says there are no nesting birds anywhere on the stretch of land, no bats, no other wildlife to be affected. They also claim the "leaves on the line" argument.

Local residents have also had an ecology survey done by a well qualified ecologist and this is publicly available. It says that there are several species of birds nesting in the trees and at least two species nesting on the ground (in nests which are usually well hidden). It says that there will be widespread wildlife disturbance, loss of habitat and food supply. It also says that in a steep-sided, well wooded valley like this one with the amount of trees there are, leaves will fall on the line from outside the cleared area, so clearing those trees will have no practical effect.

The whole idea of the 6 metre clearance swathe on either side of the line seems to have originated in the 19th century with Great Western Railways, who were worried about sparks from steam train fireboxes setting fire to rail-side vegetation. What does that have to do with trains today, please ?

Everyone accepts that safety of trains and personnel is the primary point. However, how many signals are 6 metres from the rails? Other than on sharp bends, how far from the rails should signals be before they disappear from view ? And is there no better system for warning workers of the approach of a train than sending someone to stand at the nearest bend and to shout (or radio) when they see a train coming? That is the current system ?

Sorry, Andrew and Anne - I just don't see your points. The leaf on the line argument doesn't hold because it's going to happen anyway. The safety argument doesn't hold because there should be a better system. And the financial argument you advance doesn't hold either. The real reason behind this work is that it is cheaper to have a "slash and burn" approach which you only need to do once every 20 years than to have a sensible, planned approach to lopping branches as and when it is necessary. Check across the country before you reply. Check in Baildon near Leeds, for example and see what Network Rail did there - and Eastwood, of course. The policy is to cut down and, as we were assured by Network Rail last night - "it is not our policy to plant new trees to replace those cut down".

From Miles Hutchinson
Friday, 23 May 2008

Two questions:-

One, is it possible or feasible to serve a temporary injunction on Network Rail, to allow time for further review and assessment?

Two, is it possible to drum up local TV news coverage. Network Rail sent along a PR representative to the meeting on 22 May, so they are clearly concerned, to some degree, about PR. Negative TV coverage may help amend their thinking?

Miles Hutchinson

From Richard Hopewell and Elsie P Smith
Saturday, 24 May 2008

Miles - we did approach Calendar News two weeks ago, but they never even phoned back. We had thought of trying Look North on BBC, but we wondered if we'd get the same response. Network Rail are a monolithic company and them going around ignoring Mr and Mrs Normal seems to be rather old hat as far as the TV news companies are concerned. We have another line of approach. We'll let you know if anything comes of it.

Update - Monday, 26 May 2008
Miles - sorry to ignore your initial question. We approached a friend of ours who is a Clerk of Court about the possibilities of serving a court injunction. He said that we may well have grounds to do so, but that the process is very expensive. Also, of course, Network Rail can afford top flight QCs (at £10,000 a day !!!) to put their case.

Does anyone know an environmentally-minded barrister who might give their services free, or at greatly reduced costs ?

From Myra P
Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Further to Richard and Elsie's question, it might be worth contacting the Environmental Law Foundation, which offers an advice and referral service using a network of legal and technical advisers.

Also, I wonder if RSPB would be any help? As I gather this kind of thing happens all over the country, might they perhaps be interested in taking up a test case?

From Howard B
Wednesday, 28 May 2008

I'm no doubt ill-informed about the due processes and procedures in this instance, but does Hebden Royd or Calderdale have a stance, a policy or a veto on this? I believe that other utilities require permission to do tree work, it may be just from the landowners, I don't know.

But if either councils can have a policy of responsible woodland management to reflect the local needs, sustainability and topography, surely this could be invoked.

This may mean turning our backs on the 'save every sycamore sapling at all costs' approach, and for example coppicing and pollarding, (particularly appropriate for our steep valleys) which would keep the trees but enable ground cover, reducing land erosion and ultimately reducing the chances of the tree going over in the next gale.

Anyway, hopefully the willow herb and other pesky pestulence won't take hold, the embankments will erode and Network Rail & Logging Co. will reap what they sow, or didn't sow.

But if there's any action that can be taken to stop it, count me in.

From Richard Hopewell and Elsie P Smith
Wednesday, 28 May 2008

My information, such as it is, is that Network Rail are in effect a private company. Therefore, if they want to cut down every tree on their land, no-one can object. However, they have such a public face, there is an argument that they should keep some kind of relationship with their customers. On the other hand, in reality, they take decisions and override all objections. It's typical of their attitude that Sarah McArdle, their Community Relations Manager is ex-directory and when you ring the national helpline, they won't put you through to her. The people who came from Network Rail to the public meeting last week set a new benchmark for arrogance for many of those present.

The only ground they gave was to graciously allow representatives from the community to walk the line with them (tomorrow, Thursday 29th) so that they could point out all the trees they intended to cut down. It was made plain that this was not a negotiation process, merely indicating the extent of the work to be done, beginning this coming weekend.

The ecology survey carried out on behalf of the community seems to indicate grounds for postponing the work pending further information gathering, but we just don't have the money to get a court injunction. We've rung the Environmental Law people, but only got an answerphone. Friends of the Earth have been informed but haven't made any enthusiastic moves to help.

Anyone else got any ideas ?

Update - Thursday, 29 May 2008
Myra - thanks for the information about ELF. We've been in touch and they are going to look at the situation about getting a court injunction, but the time left is now so short that it may be too late. It's just a shame we didn't know about them earlier. There again, it's only by a fluke that Network Rail haven't begun and finished the work by now. Thanks for your interest.

From Andrew Hall
Monday, 2 June 2008

I walked down to Eastwood today to inspect the 'devastation' first hand.

My impression is that the embankments are regenerating with a renewed vigour. Low lying plant life is already flourishing - predominantly brambles and ferns, with little sign of the accursed rose bay willow herb. All around is thriving and undisturbed woodland, deep, thick and teeming with wildlife.

More importantly, the trees on the embankments are springing into new life. Anyone who has tried to remove sycamores, birch, oak and to be honest, most tree species, knows that cutting them back to the ground has little effect on their ability to regenerate. This is the case on the embankments at Eastwood. To see what will eventually happen here, take a trip to Halifax by train. As you leave Bank House Tunnel, look at what has happened. The trees are thriving - incredibly so. There is more greenery than there ever was before. It's not the Armageddon that people have predicted. In fact quite the reverse.

What I find far more concerning is the state of some of Network Rail's viaducts. Whiteley Arches (the first viaduct you get to between Hebden and Tod) has some quite mature trees growing out of it. Anyone who knows the damage tree roots can do to a structure must be concerned about this.

The problem is that Network Rail has failed to maintain its property. Sadly, they inherited their estate from Railtrack, a private company who acted primarily in the interests of shareholders. The embankments, cuttings and infrastructure in this area should have been maintained and kept clear of foliage on a regular basis. The trouble is that they haven't, and now trees, which otherwise would have presented no problem, have become mature, and attracted the attention of eco warriors.

I have to admit to being impressed by the determination of those seeking injunctions, 'green' solicitors et al. Would that such action could be targeted at the real issues - the deforestation of the Amazonian basin, Indonesia and so many other places! A few, inadvertently neglected, mature trees on the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway main line from Leeds to Manchester are in such a different league. It almost puts you off from bothering.

From Richard Hopewell and Elsie P Smith
Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Andrew - we found your message very interesting. First - there was at least one of your photographs which appeared to have been taken from very close to the track. As Network Rail are quite litigious, we hope they don't see it because they may consider you as a tresspasser. That's something they are very keen on discouraging, mainly by prosecuting people who do trespass.

Secondly, your use of the expression "eco-warrior" is wide of the mark. The expression you should have used was "concerned residents". I don't know if you attended any of the local meetings which took place, but had you done so, you would have seen groups of ordinary people, brought together by concerns about their locality and what was happening there. As far as I am aware, no-one has tied themselves to a tree or taken any other offensive action, so we don't understand who these "eco warriors" are.

Finally, your comment about Amazonian deforestation and Indonesia is offensive. How do you know what involvement people have in situations overseas ? How do you know that there are not people from this area getting involved in trying to put right such things as Brazilian governmental forestry policies ? Perhaps on reflection you might decide you overstepped the mark with that comment.

Having said which, we do agree that the basis for the tree felling exercise in Calderdale is money. Had money been spent regularly in the past, lopping trees as and when necessary, this wholesale devastation would not have been necessary. It is now cheaper to "slash and burn" because it gets rid of the problem and means that Network Rail don't need to worry about it (and spend any more of their precious shareholders profits) for about 10 years.

From Allan Keep
Tuesday, 3 June 2008

What I can see in the photo is a stretch of land now devoid of trees - how is this good? As for trees springing back to life.. are you serious?

Also you can see quite clearly that NR have gone way beyond 6 metres from the rail.. what can be the logical and useful purpose of this?

I have found out that the trees behind Ingle Dene and the adjacent terraces which are more than 6m away (but still,in my view, under threat - as are all to their boundary given the Eastwood experience) are subject to a Tree Preservation Order. I wonder whether any of the trees on different parts of the work route are similarly protected? Perhaps, given that NR have similar plans for the whole valley, this is something that could be persued further to save future devastation (still the correct word).

From Andrew Hall
Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Fret not, Richard. Those photos were all taken from the public footpath and footbridge opposite the sewage works at Eastwood. Didn't even need to use a telephoto lens. In actual fact is is possible to get even closer to the rails at Eastwood crossing, something I don't much like doing because of the speed of passing trains.

And Allan - yes, I'm deadly serious. I can only reiterate what I said about the bit of line near Halifax which Network rail cleared last year - I don't think there are many, if any, trees that are not growing vigorously. Do have a look! Additionally, the bit of embankment at Eastwood I photographed has innumerable sycamore saplings growing on it - something that they would have struggled to do with a thick canopy of foliage above them. You really ought to have more confidence in nature's ability to cope.

From Dave H
Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Andrew - a very brief response your 'interesting' post.

1. How does your glowing eulogy of the work done at Eastwood help the dozens of nests currently full of chicks that will be devastated by the work? It's all very well saying 'the embankments are regenerating with a renewed vigour' but how does that help the wildlife killed in the felling?

2. As for re-growth of the trees felled, they treat them with poisons to stop them re-growing. I watched them doing it at Eastwood.

From Richard Hopewell and Elsie P Smith
Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Dave - just to expand on that point a little. At the public meeting of two weeks ago, the representatives of Network Rail said that it was their intention to treat all stumps with poison to prevent regrowth. I find it easier to attribute any regrowth which is actually happening to lazy contractors not doing a good job than to Andrew's belief in the force of Nature.