The Hertfordshire town of Royston has become increasingly divided by the Hitchin-Cambridge railway line that runs through its centre as the town expanded each side of the line.

With only two official crossings, on the by-pass at the northern end of town and next to the railway station at Kneesworth Street, there was evidence that a number of people, including school children, had been crossing the railway line to avoid a long detour.

Something had to be done.

It was decided that a subway at a location adjacent to the allotment gardens was the best option. Since then, design work progressed and the project was granted planning approval, with conditions, in May 2009.

The land required for the project, both on a temporary and a permanent basis, was acquired by Hertfordshire County Council through Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Birse Rail was awarded a contract in February 2011 to complete the detailed design and construct the underpass, ramps, pedestrian and cycle links. Funding for the £3.8 million project was largely provided by Hertfordshire County Council, with contributions from the charity Sustrans and from North Hertfordshire District Council.

Small bridge – big techniques

Building a pedestrian subway is similar to building a road bridge, just on a smaller scale. Birse Rail opted to construct the 400 tonne bridge offline, and then move it into place using a self propelled transporter, as had successfully been done with considerably larger bridges at Selly Oak and Alderley Edge.

An intensive works programme was undertaken during the Christmas possession which included isolation of the OLE, removing 36m of the twin track plain line railway, excavating and removing approximately 1000m³ of spoil and, following installation of the bridge, the reinstatement of the track and signalling and telecoms cables. The structure was then backfilled and the railway line reinstalled.

The successful installation of the subway was a key milestone on the project and will be operational to the public in the Spring of 2012, enabling Royston residents to cross the railway line safely.

Hertfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, Stuart Pile said: “We are delighted that the new Royston Rail Crossing is nearing completion. The work between the partners in the project has resulted in a timely and coordinated approach that we hope creates a new route for Royston residents to use.”