Connecting Oxfordshire – a vision for transport

7 April 2014

On 3 April Ian Hudspeth, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, presented his vision for new transport networks in the county. Around 80,000 new jobs and 100,000 new homes are expected to come to the county by 2031. Under the title “Connecting Oxfordshire” Ian Hudspeth outlined how the County Council is rising to the challenge of ensuring that investment in transport matches growth in jobs, housing and hi-tech industry beyond 2020.

You can watch his introduction in this short video.

As the transport authority, Oxfordshire County Council is about to starting consulting over its new transport plan. This is a strategic document that shapes the long term development and improvement of the transport network. Also to be called Connecting Oxfordshire, it will be “a robust evidence-based plan for developing the 21st century transport system” outlined in Cllr Hudspeth’s presentation. He recognised that significant private sector investment will be needed. “Connecting Oxfordshire is about starting the debate on how we can work together to make it happen”, he said.

Among a number of innovative ideas in the presentation were:

  • re-opening the Cowley branch railway line to passenger traffic
  • trams or some other light transit system running into St Giles from the airport at Kidlington
  • a monorail alongside the Oxford Ring Road

Read the County’s full announcement of the Connecting Oxfordshire presentation here, which also has links to the full briefing and a slideshow.

3 thoughts on “Connecting Oxfordshire – a vision for transport”

  1. Aspects of the proposed Wantage Rd Railway Station

    Local scepticism about reopening a railway station to serve Grove and Wantage has been substantially lifted by the recent very positive report from the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC). Given this commercial support, there is reason to be optimistic that a station could be reinstated if the necessary finance can be arranged. It would provide a welcome facility for local residents, and could relieve traffic congestion on local roads. But if it is to attract investment it will have to be more convenient for passengers from the local area than driving to Didcot Parkway. In spite of ATOC’s optimism, serious doubts would remain about a scheme that offered merely an hourly shuttle service between Swindon and Didcot, especially if road access were difficult.
    The former station was built 150 or so years ago to meet conditions existing at that time. However, there have been great changes since then, and this is an ideal opportunity to assess whether this site is still the most appropriate. The fundamental question is whether for similar cost an alternative site would better serve the community and be more commercially attractive to train operators.
    The Former Station
    The former Wantage Rd Station, which was demolished in the 1960’s, straddled the A338, and had traffic access at the southeastern and northwestern sides. Alongside the railway track there are three ponds adjacent to the road, SW, NW and NE of the bridge. Mature trees surround these ponds, which, together with the bridge approaches themselves, obscure the view along the A338 beyond the bridge apex. The site is situated some 2 miles from the centre of Wantage and around 1 mile from the centre of Grove.
    • The current plans, drawn up by Oxford CC, show the platforms restored to their previous state, with the former sidings and tramway terminus being used for a car park. Part of the SW area is shown being used for a bus lay by and pedestrian access. However, the plans ignore the fact that this area is now privately owned (one resident is a former local councillor, Mrs Hicks-Green). Consequently, providing public transport connection to the station would not be a matter of simply reusing land owned by the railway authorities, but would entail additional land acquisition, either re-purchase of this residential property or acquisition of a corresponding area for public transport on land further east. [The latter option would be a less convenient stopping point for buses, and might require the access road to be built to a higher standard.] Whichever solution were ultimately adopted, public transport facilities would cost more than is currently planned.
    • Replacing the former station would require track duplication eastwards to allow trains to stop without causing disruption to schedules of Intercity expresses.
    • It would also increase traffic congestion on a road already marginal in capacity for planned local population increases.
    • A shuttle train service to Didcot and Oxford would require separate trains because the junction for Oxford-bound trains is west of Didcot Parkway station, so that a single train could not serve both destinations. It is most unlikely that an infrequent shuttle service to these destinations (plus Swindon) would be economically viable. Conversely, a frequent service would cause greater disruption to intercity services.
    Road access
    A new vehicular access route to the station is proposed, extending from the A338 roundabout south of the railway to the east side of the station site. Traffic to the station from the southerly direction, including that from Grove, would be required to use the A338 as far as this roundabout. In recent times traffic on the A338 has increased substantially, and with ongoing housing expansion in the area, it will undoubtedly increase further. The proposal does not include reinstatement of the former northwestern access, which would create a traffic hazard. If part of the intention is to reduce the traffic on local stretches of the A417, it may be assumed that most station users would approach from the southerly direction. This would result in more traffic on this stretch of the A338 at peak times, and inevitably increase the risk of accidents at the road junctions between the station and Wantage. Thus easing congestion on the A417 would bring increased traffic on this part of the A338, adversely affecting access to the station, and making its commercial viability less certain. Many local commuters would surely prefer continuing to use Didcot Parkway, with its better train service, rather than pay higher fares for a limited service from a less convenient station. In addition, it seems illogical to create a bottleneck on the A338 in an attempt to ease traffic on the A417. If the station were to be re-sited to a more accessible location nearby, many of these disadvantages could be reduced or even eliminated. Although an alternative site would not necessarily be more costly, it is certain that no station would be viable if traffic congestion restricted its use during peak periods.
    Track and Signal Alterations
    The track layout at the former station is no longer as it was. The sidings have disappeared, and the railway lines have been duplicated from ca. 20 metres east of the A338 railway bridge at Grove, to ca. 20 metres west of the A417 railway bridge at Challow. A replacement station on the site of the original would necessitate re-acquisition of the residential property SW of the bridge and extension of the duplicate tracks for some distance eastwards, in order to allow the station to be used without obstructing the high-speed lines. Not only would this track alteration increase the cost of construction, but it would also necessitate purchase of additional land. Changes to the railway signalling system would probably not depend on the precise station location.
    Potential Alternative Station Site
    It might be argued that the most logical place for a station would be near the centre of the almost 6km section of existing duplicated track, which has become surplus to requirements with the closure of Didcot A coal-fired power station. Although a central location may not be possible for other reasons, the potential benefits of locating the station within this section are worth considering. For example, the duplicated track would be available for trains accelerating and slowing-down at the station. This would minimise disruption to Intercity trains, and greatly reduce the duration of interference between stopping trains and other railway traffic. This in turn would provide extra flexibility to the train operators, and perhaps allow a direct train service to and from Reading and London, which would enhance the station’s passenger appeal. It might be possible, for example, for some Intercity trains to stop at Grove instead of Didcot Parkway, this providing a direct commuter link.
    Part of the planning for the expansion of Grove is a northern relief road extending from the Denchworth Road near Grove cemetery towards the A338. Since this road will run close to the railway, it would be easy to add a spur towards a station situated nearby, west of the A338. It might even be feasible to refurbish an existing bridge to serve passengers. The road spur could be shorter than the distance from the A338 roundabout to the proposed station car park, and thus offer a cost saving. It would allow car access to the station from the south and west, and thus result in a smaller traffic increase on the A338.
    The advantages of locating a station in this area would include: –
    a) Fewer track alterations, exploitation of existing lines.
    b) Lower construction costs (no ponds at the chosen site).
    c) Less costly road provision.
    d) Less congestion on the A338.
    e) Easier access for the majority of users.
    f) Potential for a more comprehensive train service.
    The main disadvantage might be the need to acquire a larger area of land, but this might be offset by expansion of the business premises on the former station sidings. Network Rail would be well placed to assess the matter.

    There are good reasons to examine alternative locations for a replacement station to serve Grove and Wantage. Among the most important of these is the potential for a viable alternative to Didcot Parkway for local residents, and for a corresponding reduction of congestion on local roads. There is no reason to believe that reinstating a station on the original site would be the least expensive option, nor would it allow a direct commuter service to Reading and London. Given the intended development in the Grove/Wantage area, and the inevitable increase in road traffic on the A338, it may be that other options are more appropriate for modern requirements than restoration of a station at the 19th century location.

    D. Summers Revised Nov 2011

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