SOME 6,800 drivers between Wantage and Faringdon have been warned to expect driving “chaos” for 13 weeks from Saturday.

Network Rail will close the A417 Challow Station road bridge until mid-December to rebuild it as part of its £2bn electrification project of the Great Western main line.

Commuters and parents taking children to school have been told to take a 24-mile, half-hour diversion route along the A420 and A338.

Their cars will join the 13,000 daily journeys already made on the A338 between Wantage and Oxford.

Vale of White Horse District Councillor for Children and the Challows, StJohn Dickson, predicted “nightmare” conditions for drivers.

He said: “Until people experience it, once the schools have gone back and we have all the chaos, we don’t know how bad it will be.

“The attitude from Network Rail is that people will find their own way.

“We know the bridge has to be rebuilt, it’s just very unfortunate we didn’t manage to get any form of replacement.

“The view now is just ‘get it done as quickly as possible’.”

Residents and businesses who need access to their properties will be able to use smaller side roads.

These will be subject to weight restrictions preventing vehicles such as HGVs using them, although exemptions will apply for local access.

Network Rail is rebuilding or modifying 29 bridges in the county to make room for new overhead electric wires.

The rail infrastructure firm says electric overhead lines will allow it to run larger, faster, more efficient and more environmentally-friendly trains.

The first road closure, Fulscot Road Bridge at South Moreton, near Didcot, began in November last year and was doubled from six months to a year due to “ongoing design issues and weather”.

This will be the second. Rebuilding the A338 Volunteer Bridge at Grove will begin in November and be complete by the summer, but that road will only need to be closed for an unspecified “short time”, the company said.

Despite an online petition against the A417 closure signed by 1,000 people, Network Rail said no alternative plans were considered.

The firm will, however, build a temporary bridge for pedestrians and cyclists for the duration of the works.

Senior programme manager Nigel Fenn, of Network Rail, said: “We are working closely with Oxfordshire County Council, local parish councils and other key stakeholders to minimise this disruption and I would like to take this opportunity to thank people in advance for their patience.

“This is an exciting time for the Great Western main line as we upgrade and electrify the route to transform our diesel railway into one of the most modern in Europe, providing passengers with more seats, faster journeys and cleaner, quieter trains.”

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