BOTLEY ROAD CLOSED!
BOTLEY ROAD CLOSED!
A new railway station and road upgrade has led to the complete closure of Oxford’s Botley Road for six months.
Published: 13 April 2023
Author: Richard Lofthouse
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The Botley Road was closed to road traffic for six months on 11 April, but pedestrians and cyclists can still pass through a narrow tunnel manned by marshals.
The closure, initiated by Network Rail to allow for a £161 million upgrade of the railway station, was not unanticipated but has still caused a headache, especially for rail commuters and some local residents and road users and business owners.
In fact Easter 2023 will be remembered for a double rail closure on the heavily travelled London Paddington-Oxford line.
Just before Easter, engineers raised the alarm on the Nuneham Viaduct which crosses the River Thames between Culham and Radley, near Abingdon. They detected undue movement and closed the line, resulting in significant delays and bus replacement services between Oxford and Didcot.
After initially saying the line would reopen within a month, network Rail revised its estimate to 10 June at the earliest.
At least initially, the closure of the railway in two places at once – Nuneham and Botley Road - has been to heap pressure on Chiltern Rail, who run the alternative Oxford-London service via Bicester and High Wycombe.
The Chiltern trains are smaller, older and run on dirty old diesel chuggers widely perceived to be inferior to the electrified rolling stock operated by First Great Western.
They terminate at London Marylebone rather than London Paddington, and are currently so crowded that Chiltern Rail has advised passengers not to travel at all.
The rail station and railway upgrades, part of the Oxfordshire Connect programme, involves building a larger, more spacious Oxford station, with greater capacity for rail services for both passengers and freight.
The Botley Road itself will benefit because for many years now the road under the railway bridge has been criticised for being narrow and dangerous, especially for cyclists.
The new bridge will be wider, allowing for the addition of a four-metre cycle/footway on each side of the main road.
However, the actual bridge will not be replaced until 2024, when the Botley Road will close for another six months.
Monitoring the local press, it is not the case that every voice is against the current closure.
The Botley Road is notorious for traffic jams that seem to be present at almost all hours, with resulting noise and air pollution for many residents, one of whom told the Oxford Mail that he had counted 1,200 cars passing his house in one hour.
But this traffic will likely be displaced to the ring road and other arterial roads into and across Oxford, so that it isn’t immediately obvious who the winners and losers will be.
Heavy construction equipment is already being stored in Frideswide Square, opposite the Said Business School, obscuring businesses such as Uni Food and Wine who have expressed grave concern about footfall.
Chris Benton, whose Binsey-lane based bicycle courier business Pedal and Post recently began a crowd fundraising, says that in most situations his riders will be able to get their cargo bikes through the pedestrian tunnel, and that the absence of traffic jams on the Botley Road will ‘be an advantage’.
QUAD paid a visit on the first day of the closure, noting a homeless person camping in a tent near the pedestrian bridge across the railway, an incidental detail that speaks volumes about Oxford’s wider cost of living crisis.
Day one of the closure involved contractors digging a hole in the road.
The old Youth Hostel on the Botley side of the closure is now partially demolished (shown, above left) and buses cannot turn easily at the turn-point, needed to reverse up with the help of banksmen before going back the same way they had just come.
Network Rail say, 'When the works are complete, Oxford station will boast a new western entrance that will be built next to Botley Road and will link up to the new and existing platforms via a subway. The new entrance will make the station more accessible to people living to the west of the station, reducing walking time by up to three minutes. Dedicated cycle parking will also be available.'
More detail about the new Oxford railway station can be found at Network Rail's website, https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/our-routes/western/oxf...