The East West Rail scheme should be good news for Bicester overall. However, as residents will be aware, Network Rail have ignored the London Road level crossing in all of their consultations for Phase 2 of the scheme (EWR2). Officially the position of Network Rail and local councillors is that there are no plans to close the crossing.
When the line through to Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford reopens from 2023 it will result in at least 3x as many trains running (with the prospect of more to come in future).
Whether or not the road is actually closed, when the crossing is closed for 45 minutes in an hour (as seems likely) the net effect will be similiar. EWR2 significantly impacts on the level crossing, increasing congestion and effectively cutting off Langford Village from the town centre.
We have made it clear that simply closing the crossing (as many residents fear), or doing nothing is not an option. We and many others have been pushing for clarity on the issue. A solution is needed that will allow an accessible route into town to be maintained whilst removing the conflict between road and rail at the level crossing.
The LVCA is objecting to the EWR2 scheme not just because of the lack of a solution at London Road but also due to the lack of electrification.
Network Rail say in their statement of case to the forthcoming Public Inquiry that “the extended closure times are comparable to other busy level crossings around the UK which are considered to operate safely”. Some improvements to signalling are planned to be implemented as part of EWR2 which could reduce the cumulative barrier down time by 25-40 minutes per 24 hour period – i.e. up to 2 minutes per hour could be saved. These improvements could be implemented by 2022.
However, I will be pointing out that running just one extra train each hour wipes out any time savings. We already know there will be more trains than originally planned; building 1 million houses in the region will surely mean even more trains, and the railway through Bicester already has the capacity to handle more trains – both passenger and freight.
On 25 October the Oxford Mail confirmed our Councillors pledge to push for London Road level crossing funding. See also this article here.
Network Rail say they are “committed to working with Oxfordshire County Council (as the Highways Authority) to secure a permanent road solution (overbridge or underpass) for London Road Level Crossing”.
As I have said, such a solution appears not to be funded. And as was posted on this site in 2017 a replacement bridge or tunnel at London Road could cost more than £60 million. The cost is no doubt considerably more than it would have been, had it been implemented in 2015. Yet if a solution is delayed beyond 2023 the cost will sky-rocket.
Whilst no announcement on funding was forthcoming in the Budget on 29 October, it does seem that things could be moving forwards at last and the elephant in the room is not going to be ignored. Getting it right first time is often the best and most cost effective way.