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Rail line projects schedule is scrapped
THE timetable for a rail scheme that could cause months of disruption for the county’s motorists has been scrapped.
Network Rail has said a schedule it gave for rebuilding 28 bridges in the county is “out the window” after it admitted the original plans were not right.
But the company has now said that communities may only get four weeks’ notice – rather than the months of advance warning people were given when the plans were first revealed.
The scheme caused dismay after plans were announced late last year, with people worried about road disruption and councils raising fears about a lack of consultation.
The rail infrastruture company has now promised to give “at least” four weeks’ notice for each road closure.
But unlike in December, when the whole plan for the works was shown, there will be no full schedule released in one go.
The firm has said it will redraw the timetable after admitting the original one was “misleading”.
The company needs to modify or rebuild the bridges over the next four years as part of its £1bn electrification of the Great Western Mainline from London to Cardiff.
To put in overhead electric lines to power new trains, the company needs to raise several Victorian bridges by several feet.
It will need to close 19 roads, possibly for up to four months at a time, and in December gave the Oxford Mail a timetable for possible closures.
But senior project manager Nigel Fenn has now said: “Those dates are all out the window.
“They were misleading. They would have been formulated over a year ago and train operating companies have produced new timetables since then.”
Mr Fenn said Network Rail has to notify the train operators of engineering work as much as two years in advance and work around their timetables – which have now changed since the original plans were made.
The line between London and Oxford via Didcot is due to be electrified by January 1, 2017.
The rest of the main line from Didcot to Bristol and South Wales, including the Oxfordshire stretch to Swindon, must be finished by January 1, 2018.
Under plans first revealed late last year, Network Rail said it could begin work on several schemes in the county at the start of 2014.
However, only one of those schemes has so far begun – at Fulscot Bridge in South Moreton – and all the other schemes that will take place over the next four years have yet to start.
Network Rail’s head of consents and environment, Nia Griffiths, said two or three Oxfordshire bridge modifications would start in the next six months, but the only one the company could reveal was a footbridge at Goring and Streatley station.
The firm said it does not need to consult – but is doing so anyway.
Mr Fenn said: “We have permitted development rights. I can do whatever I like to the bridge, and we are given those rights by the Government.
“But we don’t like to enforce that and cause trouble.”
But the mayor of Wantage, Fiona Roper, said the town council had never been consulted over plans to raise Station Road bridge north of Grove by 1.3 metres.
She said: “I think it is a shame they haven’t approached us. I am assuming they’re going to a higher level, the county council, but it would be nice to have a say.”
In January, Oxfordshire County Council rejected an application by Network Rail to close the road for up to six months from February 10, forcing Network Rail to look into other ways to carry out the work.
At the moment, the last road closure is due to begin at Christmas 2015.
Ms Griffiths said: “We will give the Oxford Mail the dates for each of them as early as we can, which is as soon as it has been agreed with the county council.”
Wantage and Didcot MP Ed Vaizey, said: “I’m very concerned about the process Network Rail is undertaking.
“There is a lot of evidence that it has not been well managed elsewhere. I am still trying to secure a meeting with them, but they are proving elusive. My constituents cannot afford the chaos and disruption which seems likely to take place without proper planning.”
Network Rail spokeswoman Anne-Marie Batson said: “This programme is really fluid.
“One day we might say one thing then a week later it is something else but there is always a reason behind that.”