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Motorists facing months of misery as Network Rail upgrades 29 bridges
Buy this photo » Claire Hollis, of The Crown in South Moreton. Picture: OX637838 Ric Mellis
COMMUNITIES have been warned to brace themselves for months of disruption under a multi-million pound scheme working on 29 rail bridges across the south of the county.
Network Rail is in the opening phase of a project that is forecast to last well into 2015 and will involve closing up to 19 roads, possibly for four months at a time.
But already people living in South Moreton, including pub landlady Claire Hollis, have criticised Network Rail over the closure of a vital bridge while it is being modified.
Network Rail has to rebuild 14 bridges and improve 15 others ahead of the £1bn electrification of the Great Western Main Line from London to Bristol.
People living in South Moreton, near Didcot, where Fulscot Bridge has been closed while it is being modified, have accused Network Rail of riding roughshod over their community.
The parish council says it was not consulted ahead of the closure of their main route to Didcot that started last week, while Ms Hollis, landlady of the Crown pub, warned: “Many people have been inconvenienced in the village – this is going to be a big inconvenience for the whole county.”
Network Rail and Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, said the rail infrastructure company would communicate with the affected villages and areas.
However, it has not been able to draw up a definitive plan of road closures and timings.
Overall, 19 roads may be closed or partially closed for up to four months. A further nine footbridges will also be modified, which may or may not require them to be closed.
The main road from Oxford to Sandford-on-Thames, the A4074, will see work lasting between 12 and 18 months but Network Rail has said this could possibly be done without closing the road at all.
A bridge on the A34 just north of the Milton interchange will take approximately four months to rebuild from March.
Network Rail said this might require a lane closure on the dual carriageway, but that would be carried out overnight.
The Volunteer Bridge on the A338 at Grove, used by thousands of people every day to go to and from Wantage and Grove to Oxford, will need to be rebuilt, beginning in March or April.
Network Rail has given an estimate of four months for the work, but has been unable to say whether the bridge will have to be closed.
Grove Parish Council leader Frank Parnell said: “They can’t shut the A338 for four months, especially if the Steventon Bridge is closed at the same time, we would have to stock up on all our supplies and go into hibernation.”
Network Rail spokeswoman Dayle Sellars said: “We are working closely with Oxfordshire County Council and other interested parties to come up with the best possible plan. Work on a bridge does not automatically mean closure of that bridge. We will examine alternatives, and in many cases bridges can remain open for most or all of the period of work.
“We will only close roads or cause similar levels of disruption when absolutely necessary.”
She said that whenever a road was to be closed or disruptive work carried out, residents would be informed “as early as possible”, including by letters and road signs.
Oxfordshire County Council spokesman Martin Crabtree said: “We have agreed that Network Rail will communicate directly with any affected communities and provide information that will help minimise the impact of their works.
“It is very important to keep in mind that the works Network Rail are doing now will be of benefit to the county in years to come as journey times are reduced and the associated economic benefits are felt.
“We also want to emphasise that although some of the works will cause disruption, people will still be able to access homes and businesses.”
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