Public dismay over the way Network Rail is handing proposals to improve safety at a dangerous crossing has reached new levels.

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Around 500 people have signed a petition which only started last week calling for an underpass to be built at the Gipsy Lane crossing in Needham Market.

But that option is not favoured by Network Rail. Instead they want to erect a footbridge much to the annoyance of residents.

However, Network Rail said it is now “investigating the possibility” of an underpass.

Graham Oxenham, town councillor, said: “We are keeping the pressure on Network Rail as the bridge would be detrimental to the character of the rural area and detrimental to its existing users.

“The underpass is the more expensive option but I think Network Rail is balking at the cost. Although they said cost was not an issue at the first public meeting it’s now clearly a consideration with them pushing through the bridge idea.

“I think the main issue is that the crossing is at one end of the town and the next available crossing is in Hawks Mill Street which would cause major issues for access because people would have to run the gauntlet of the road.”

He said the crossing in Hawks Mill Street would be difficult for older residents and those with mobility problems to access because it is down a steep flight of steps.

The bridge proposal at Gipsy Lane would be for at total of 72 steps which has alarmed some residents.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said discussions with Suffolk County Council, which manages rights of way, were ongoing.

She said: “The surest way to improve safety at a level crossing is to close it. Where a road, footpath or cycle way meets the railway there will always be a certain level of risk to motorists or pedestrians.

“Network Rail is committed to reduce that risk as much as possible, and it is our intention to close Gipsy Lane level crossing and replace it with an alternative means of getting across the railway.

“A stepped footbridge is currently our preferred option at Gipsy Lane. However, we are working with Suffolk County Council, to further investigate the possibility of an underpass so long as it meets critical safety criteria and could be built within an appropriate timeframe.”

Mr Oxenham said the petition would eventually be handed to Network Rail’s chief executive.

In 2011 a woman died when she was hit by a train at Gipsy Lane.

Last month Network Rail was criticised for “excluding” Mid Suffolk District Council from its discussions.

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