NETWORK Rail has been labelled “insensitive and incompetent” by an MP after it admitted its rebuilding project of the first of 29 Oxfordshire bridges is already months off track.
The rail infrastructure company is planning to rebuild or remodel the bridges as part of the work needed for the £1bn electrification of the rail network.
Fulscot Road bridge in South Moreton was supposed to be shut for six months, but “ongoing design issues” and the weather meant that closure has been pushed to 12 months.
South Moreton residents said they are “disgusted” and they understood the closure of the main road out of the village into Didcot was because the rail firm had not foreseen engineering problems.
Now Wantage MP Ed Vaizey has joined the criticism. He said: “I believe Network Rail has proved to be both insensitive and incompetent so far, as sadly has been demonstrated in the very, very poor process and communication about Fulscot Bridge which is to remain closed for months to come even though it should, by now, have reopened.
“They are proceeding as though motorists don’t exist.”
Mr Vaizey said that until he met Network Rail bosses three weeks ago, the firm was not regularly meeting with highways authority Oxfordshire County Council on the project.
Claire Hollis, 39, who runs The Crown Inn in High Street, said the pub had been “very quiet” during the past six months, but said: “This is even more frustrating.
“If we had known it would be a year in the first place we would have promoted things differently.
“Network Rail don’t even let us know what is going on.”
The village’s woes were compounded when Oxfordshire County Council also closed the two main diversion routes into the village recently to carry out temporary repairs to make the roads usable for Network Rail contractors.
South Moreton Parish Council clerk Roger Templeman said he was “absolutely disgusted” by the village’s treatment.
He said: “Nearly a year of traffic diversions are causing great inconvenience to villagers, loss of business to the village’s pubs, lots of damage to cars and cycles due to the potholes, safety issues for pedestrians competing with diverted traffic on the village roads, and no pedestrian diversion for villagers to the shops.”
Network Rail is modifying railway bridges to make way for new, overhead electric wires, which it says will allow it to run faster, more reliable and more eco-friendly trains.
It will need to rebuild portions of the A4074 near Sandford-on-Thames, the A34 near Didcot, a bridge on Steventon High Street and a bridge on the A338 at Grove which takes 13,000 journeys each day from and to Oxford.
Mr Vaizey said he would meet Transport Minister Stephen Hammond on May 20 to try to get Government funding to build temporary replacement bridges for Steventon and Grove.
Network Rail spokeswoman Anne-Marie Batson said: “Our policy is to minimise the impact on the community for the programme overall and we remain steadfast in meeting this, alongside the task to deliver a major scheme.”
She refused to give details about what the “design issues” were.