NETWORK Rail has blamed electrical problems for delays in installing new hi-tech automated barriers at a level crossing in the Dean area.

Bosses at Network Rail closed the road for ten days recently so that planned track work and a scheme to install full width barriers at Dean Hill level crossing at East Dean on the Romsey to Salisbury line could go ahead.

But the work on the barriers had to be abandoned.

While the crossing was out of use motorists were forced to travel long distances to reach neighbouring villages.

One of those was the Rev James Pitkin, vicar of the Lockerley Benefice, which includes East Dean, who had to make a detour of 17 miles to reach his flock on the other side of the tracks.

In the end the Mr Pitkin came up with the novel idea of holding Wednesday evening Communion services at Dean Hill crossing where pedestrians still had access to homes on either side of it.

Mr Pitkin converted his Fiat Panda’s parcel shelf into a makeshift altar and parishioners gathered around to worship.

He said: “The work has to be done but Network Rail have difficulty communicating with the community over when the work is happening.”

He said the East Dean crossing was closed again on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday from 9.30pm to 5.30am.

“Turning up at the barriers to find them closed is not condusive to good temper,” said the vicar.

East Dean Parish Council chairman Richard Newton said he is worried about further disruption to the village when the new barriers are eventually installed.

“It was closed for an extremely long time and at times it appeared no one was working on the crossing. This work has inconvenienced a lot of people with the diversions in place and it has added an extra 15 to 20 minutes to their journey,” said Mr Newton.

Officials at Network Rail are now trying to re-programme the work which includes removing the existing half-barriers and replacing them with full-width ones along with sensors that can detect if a person or a vehicle is on the crossing when a train is approaching and switch the signal to red to stop the train.

A Network Rail spokesman said workers at Dean Hill had encountered an “unforeseen complexity” with the power supply.

He denied rumours circulating in the area that the new gates intended for the crossing had been the wrong size and said the work to upgrade the track had gone ahead as planned during the closure.

New full-width automatic barriers are also planned for nearby Dean station (at West Dean) and will require a road closure there.

Barriers at Dean Hill and at West Dean were being replaced because they were “life-expired and we are taking the opportunity to increase their safety,” said the spokesman.

Half-width barriers have been criticised on safety grounds as irresponsible motorists and pedestrians can jump a red light and slalom through the gates.

“The level crossings don’t suffer from a great deal of what we would call ‘misuse’ but the one in West Dean in particular has a high pedestrian use and therefore the full-barrier crossing type is more appropriate,” said the spokesman.

He pointed out that unmanned crossings without CCTV have to be fitted with half-barriers to allow vehicles and pedestrians to escape if a train was approaching.

He said that Network Rail currently had no plans to install full-width barriers at other level crossings in the Romsey area.

l THERE will be no trains running between Romsey and Salisbury on Sunday because of further engineering work on the tracks. Network Rail staff are carrying out essential maintenance work all day and buses will replace trains. They will call at Romsey, Mottisfont & Dunbridge, and Dean stations.