Network Rail bosses have backtracked on their pledge to reopen the Botley Road for four months at the end of next month.

In a shock announcement today the rail authority, which is working on a £161m upgrade of Oxford rail station, said it no longer planned to reopen the major route at the rail bridge from October 29 until March 2024 due to a number of 'unique challenges'.

The road was due to reopen next month, with a further seven-month closure planned from March 2024 to October 2024.

READ MORE: Botley Road works director responds to noise fears

But according to Network Rail, even though the project switched to 24-hour working in August, the delays contractors have encountered mean Botley Road will not be able to reopen this October, and the route will remain closed at the rail bridge until October 2024.

Dale Crutcher, Network Rail’s industry programme director for Greater Oxford area, said: "This project is extremely complex and has been made even more challenging by the extent of the brick arch underneath the road.

Bicester Advertiser: Roadworks in Botley Road"We’ve done everything we can to deliver the work, including moving to working around the clock, but unfortunately with needing the infrastructure to be ready by the end of next year we have no choice but to keep the road closed until October 2024.

“I understand this will be disappointing for residents and businesses, and I’m sorry for the disruption this will cause.

“I would encourage anyone who has questions or concerns to attend our next community drop-in at West Oxford Community Centre on Wednesday, September 27 between 2.30pm and 6pm, where members of the project team will be available to speak with you.”

Instead of completing the work over two periods of about six months with a break in the middle, Network Rail has removed the break and extended the time needed to complete the work by several months.

READ MORE: The Botley Road closure - what we know so far

Work on the station and railway upgrade had to be paused in June after contractors unearthed an inverted brick arch, thought to be part of the original Victorian drainage system.

Work was also put on hold in July, when a nearby area had to be evacuated following the discovery of a Second World War-era hand grenade within the work site.

Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for highways management said: “Obviously it is disappointing that Botley Road will remain closed for longer than expected but there was no alternative due to the difficulties faced by Network Rail in this complex project.

“We continue to thank residents, commuters and businesses who have been affected by this work for their patience and understanding.

Bicester Advertiser: "As the highways authority, we will continue to work with Network Rail and other partners and discharge our duty to manage the highways network effectively.”

It is not the first time on the project that Network Rail has changed its plans.

Network Rail and the county council said they planned to close the road at the rail bridge for 12 months from January 9 so that major improvements to the station could take place.

But then the year-long closure option was scrapped for a major re-think, which moved the closure date to April 11 and introduced a break from the end of October until March.

Julian Le Vay, of residents' group West Oxford Access, said local businesses would suffer as a result of the latest announcement.

He added: "This is such a massive failure of any kind of democratic control - it's gobsmacking.

"Network Rail can paralyse the whole of West Oxford with no sanction whatsoever."

Bicester Advertiser: The new western entrance of Oxford stationThe multi-million-pound project to upgrade the station, the railway and the surrounding road network will improve journeys and provide better connecting rail links to the east of Oxford.

Network Rail said once completed, the station and railway upgrades - part of the Oxfordshire Connect programme – will provide passengers with a bigger and better Oxford station and an expanded railway which will enable more services for passengers and freight, with reduced journey times.  

The road network near the station will also be improved, with safer junctions with Botley Road and more opportunities for sustainable transport, including enhanced bus travel as well as more space for cyclists and pedestrians through the addition of a four-metre cycle and footway on each side of the main road.   

Ground investigations revealed the historic arch is far larger than previously known - reaching a metre deep and stretching for around 100 metres between Mill Street and Frideswide Square – and that it could form part of the structural support of the railway bridge.  

The extent of the arch meant that the programme of work had to be redesigned to make sure the bridge is stable and fully supported while the complex utilities under the road are diverted.

The new programme involves installing 700 piles – support structures that are driven deep into the ground.  A temporary drainage system will manage groundwater before a new permanent pumping system is installed later in the project. 

Piling work began in August and will continue until mid-October.

Because this work is noisy, the three piling rigs required for the job will only be in use between 8am and 6pm on weekdays and alternate weekends.

Following the announcement in August that 24-hour working would be needed owing to the delays caused by the extent of the brick arch, quieter work will take place throughout the night to reduce disruption to residents and businesses.

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