Commuter outrage at 'lack of plan' for rail upgrade

Rail campaigner Ian East, right, at Islip with residents Henrietta Leyser and Colin Tuffrey

Rail campaigner Ian East, right, at Islip with residents Henrietta Leyser and Colin Tuffrey Buy this photo

First published in News Bicester Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by , Oxford Times Chief Reporter. Call me on 01865 425434

COMMUTERS say they are being kept in the dark about the real extent of disruption from the multi-million pound Oxford to Bedford railway upgrade.

With the scheduled starting date just weeks away railway companies still do not appear to have a works plan, it is claimed.

And with up to two years of disruption expected, commuters are calling on Network Rail to end speculation about the impact on the local transport system Dr Ian East, chairman of Oxford-Bicester Rail Action group, said absence of information was “utterly outrageous,” with commuters facing doubled journey times and road congestion made worse.

Dr East said: “It has become clear that Network Rail, which is now responsible for the upgrade of the railway from Oxford to Bedford, has no plan of works, despite a start date of late April, early May.

“It is not unreasonable, given the enormity of the disruption and disturbance to both users of the line and affected residents, that such a plan should not just exist but be openly accessible.”

The group has now called on the Office of Rail Regulation to compel Network Rail to publish its plans.

But with the way seemingly cleared in October for the new £130m rail link between Oxford and London by the Transport Secretary, rail companies say a new legal issue must first be addressed.

A challenge by Summertown resident Sean Feeney is expected to be heard in March, and is understood to focus on the process the DfT followed to grant the rail operator a transport works order.

But the rail users’ group say the resident’s challenge did not justify lack of information about how long the Oxford-Bicester service would have to be closed during work, amid fears Network Rail aims to close the line longer than necessary.

Dr East said: “It was bad enough to face the loss of the line for a full year under the Evergreen 3 scheme, but I would be surprised if they reopen in two years.

“Bicester commuters, and all the others who use the line, face an indefinite closure, with no heed whatsoever given to their needs or concerns.”

He said the timetable of work would be crucial. “There is no intention to first complete the very considerable works which do not necessitate closure such as adding the new chord north of Bicester Town Station. Nor is there any intention to complete the Oxford-Bicester stretch first, so that it may reopen early.”

Network Rail and Chiltern Railways, in a joint statement, said: “You may be aware that a judicial review of the Transport and Works Act Order is due to be heard in March and therefore, as yet, we cannot confirm timescales.

“Following the outcome of the review, we will certainly be communicating more to passengers and people in the area.

“It is our aim to complete the Oxford to Bicester upgrade as quickly and safely as possible.”

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