We promise to keep public in the picture

Network Rail bosses promised yesterday to do more to consult local communities affected by a £1.2bn safety programme to erect giant communication masts next to railway lines.

Network Rail bosses promised yesterday to do more to consult local communities affected by a £1.2bn safety programme to erect giant communication masts next to railway lines.

Bardon Mill residents who have succeeded in postponing Network Rail's palns to build a 30m-high communication mast close to their homes

The Journal revealed on Thursday how people in Bardon Mill, Northumberland, were furious after learning that one of the 30m-high masts is to be built on the edge of their village.

They fear the structure could pose a health risk and are angry that the Government-owned company does not require planning permission to erect the `unsightly' towers.

Network Rail plans to put up 10 of the masts on the line between Newcastle and Carlisle - five of them in Tynedale - but has put the work on hold pending discussions with residents and a review of the proposed sites.

The masts are also planned at five-mile intervals along the East Coast Main Line through Northumberland, Tyneside and County Durham as part of a nationwide safety improvement programme allowing train signallers to talk to drivers.

Yesterday, following claims that the scheme is being introduced by stealth, Network Rail defended its importance and promised to put more effort into informing residents in areas where masts are to go up.

In all, about 2,000 communication masts will be erected alongside the rail network to fulfil a key recommendation from Lord Cullen's report into the Ladbroke Grove rail accident and improve safety.

Yesterday, a Network Rail spokesman said: "We can confirm that the work on erecting masts in the Tynedale area has been put on hold pending further discussions and consultations with local residents.

"In addition, we are going to make much more of an effort to consult and communicate with other local communities about this programme.

"We are happy to be open with people about this because we have got nothing to hide. This is a system which is crucial for the railways and which is perfectly safe."

Health fears have been raised by people in Bardon Mill, but Network Rail says the communication towers are different to commercial mobile phone masts.

The spokesman added: "These trackside masts will only radiate a signal along the line of route and there will be no spillage to the side."

He said `hundreds' of the masts have already been erected across the UK.

He added: "When we come to a stretch of route where we are going to put them up, we inform the local authorities and ask for feedback, even though we have permitted development rights to erect them."

Yesterday, Newcastle City Council and Berwick Borough Councils said they did not appear to have been informed of plans by Network Rail to put up masts in their areas.

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