Page last updated at 21:01 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Rail station hope for the town cut in two

By Jon Kelly
BBC News, Workington

The remains of Northside Bridge in Workington, Cumbria, that was destroyed by the floods (pic: George Carrick Photography)
Northside Bridge was washed away in last week's devastating floods

Devastating floods in Cumbria have caused chaos and destruction across the county - and literally divided one town in two.

Severe weather has brought hardship to much of north-west England, but Workington can legitimately complain that it is now half the town it once was.

The collapse of one road and one foot bridge over the River Derwent - with another vehicle crossing deemed unsafe - has turned near-neighbours into distant relations.

To one side of the river sits Northside, a modest housing estate. To the other are the vast majority of Workington's shops, schools and other amenities.

So now, without the bridges to offer a way across the Derwent, Northsiders have to make a 30-mile trip to their own town centre - barely a mile-and-a-half from their homes.

Such has been the impact on local life that Network Rail is planning to construct a temporary train station to the river's north - the railway line being the only surviving route across the Derwent in Workington - in a bid to keep the community intact.

'Crippling'

The loss of the crossings has already resulted in a tragic human cost, with Pc Bill Barker, 44, swept to his death when the A597 Northside Bridge was destroyed on Friday.

Map showing the location of the new station

But - less acutely - their absence continues to generate misery here.

Jules Tognarelli, 40, a senior practitioner with the charity Action for Children, has already seen how dramatically flooding can disrupt her routine.

On the first night of the chaos, her son's bus journey home from Penrith took him on a six-hour diversion and her husband was stranded in Carlisle for two days following a business trip to Edinburgh.

"It's been crippling for families - not just in terms of access to schools, but there's not so much as a bank on this side," she says. "There isn't a shop either."

The isolation of Northside should, at least, be alleviated by the construction of the new station, which Network Rail has promised to work on building "round the clock" so it can be ready for the weekend.

It will be constructed on wasteland just over half a mile from the existing Workington stop.

Linked by a footbridge, the company says passengers getting on or off at Northside will have lighting, a waiting room and a gravel car park.

Emergency food station at Northside community centre to help residents in Workington (pic: George Carrick Photography)
An emergency food centre has been set up for residents

Jules is grateful for the stop-gap measure, but warns that it will not be enough - particularly for the elderly, the disabled or those with small children.

"It's only going to be a temporary station which is basically going to be built out of scaffold and planks," she says.

"The trains are already full, even before they get into Flimby (the station ahead of Workington).

"It's all right having a station, but not if there isn't a train you can get on."

Lukewarm welcome

Wayne Walker, 31, the father of three young children, agrees. His offspring have been "getting a bit ratty" in the house as a result of being unable to get to school.

Engineers inspect the Calva Bridge in Workington after the floods (pic George Carrick Photography)
The Calva Bridge has dropped by a foot since the floods

But what worries Wayne is that the elderly and infirm on the Northside will be left no better off as a result of the new railway stop.

"It'll help people go into the town, but if they go for shopping, they've got to trail it back on the train," he says.

"The town isn't just a matter of walking into town and doing your shopping - it's a mile further up the road."

Not all Northsiders are so pessimistic, however. Jennifer Kirkbride, a 59-year-old grandmother, is upbeat.

"It won't help the old people, people with babies or wheelchairs," she says. "But it will help.

"At the moment we're quite comfortable, dry, we've got food and plenty of milk and tea bags - as long as we've got food and we're warm, we're happy enough at the moment.

Staff at the Northside community centre's emergency food centre (pic: George Carrick Photography)
Volunteers are making sure vulnerable people are not forgotten

"But we just feel a little bit isolated."

Although Workington has been split in two, the chaos has brought many of its inhabitants closer.

At the Northside Community Centre, donations of food are handed out. Thanks to volunteers, a minibus takes pensioners to do their shopping and a prescription exchange service has been arranged with pharmacies on either side of the Derwent.

Retired police officer Joe Bell, 56, appreciates the paradox of Workington's great divide.

"It really has", he remarks wryly, "brought people together."



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