A KEY element of work to modernise Oxfordshire’s Rail links with London, the South West and South Wales gets under way today, with the launch of a £350m resignalling project which will see trains as far away as Bristol controlled from Didcot.

The work forms part of a £5bn Network Rail scheme to modernise the Great Western main line, with equipment dating as far back as the 1960s replaced by state-of-the-art computerised systems.

The first phase of the project, due for completion later this year, will see new signals installed in the Didcot area and on the lines towards Oxford and Swindon.

Signals around Oxford station will be replaced in 2015, with control switching to the Thames Valley signalling centre, near Didcot Parkway station.

The project will boost capacity and help cut delays caused by ageing equipment, as well as paving the way for an in-cab signalling system on board trains later in the decade.

Network Rail says signal faults cause an average 25,000 minutes of delays to trains in the region each year.

Patrick Hallgate, the company’s Western route director said: “We are safeguarding the long-term future of a vital rail artery in the South West of England and Thames Valley. The Great Western main line is running out of room, with nearly 30 million journeys and a growth rate of at least five per cent each year.

“In a few years’ time, the signalling infrastructure will be considered life-expired but we are ahead of the game by starting the improvements now.”