NETWORK Rail’s project to widen and improve the long-standing bottleneck at Cow Lane is set to begin in the Autumn, after it has carried out a procurement process to identify a contractor to construct the scheme.
An update report on the delayed project to relieve congestion in west Reading and along the Oxford Road was provided at a recent meeting of Reading Borough Council’s Traffic Management Committee (TMSC). http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/6588/Item11/pdf/Item11.pdf.
When completed by Network Rail, the planned improvements at Cow Lane bridges will remove the current height restriction and the current traffic bottleneck by creating a wider road big enough to allow two vehicles to safely pass, as well as allowing the future use of double-deck buses for the first time ever. It will mean traffic lights will no longer be needed and substantial benefits for pedestrians and cyclists with new shared use footway/cycleways introduced through the bridges.
The TMSC report on January 12 outlined how Network Rail’s initial plan had been to use the same contractor who constructed the new rail viaduct into Reading Station. Lengthy delays to the project followed however after a single objection by a local business to the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) process resulted in the need for a public enquiry. The delay meant the existing contractor had left the site before the issue was resolved, and a full procurement process is now needed by Network Rail to identify a contractor to build the Cow Lane scheme.
Network Rail also identified potential design issues with the original Cow Lane scheme due to the position of existing utility services. It has subsequently completed a value engineering exercise to identify potential cost savings, which Reading Borough Council has been involved in to ensure the essential elements of the scheme are retained. The engineering exercise has identified some potential areas of redesign which do not affect the overall objectives. These include the potential removal of pedestrian facilities to cross the road between both bridges, and a new layout to include a zebra crossing, instead of a pedestrian refuge.
Network Rail had requested the full closure of Cow Lane for the duration of the works, but this was rejected by the Council because of the importance of Cow Lane as a key strategic road route in Reading.
Reading Borough Council’s CPO powers will expire in March 2018 and Network Rail have been notified of this important deadline. The Council remains reliant on Network Rail in confirming a programme of works, and Network Rail remain the lead organisation in delivering the project.
Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Transport and Planning, said:
“It is unfortunate that the initial delays caused by the single objection to the CPO process has had a knock-on effect which now mean further delays, as Network Rail goes through the process of identifying a suitable contractor. While these are factors completely outside of Network Rail’s control, it has nevertheless been an incredibly frustrating process for local residents in west Reading. Delays to the Council’s introduction of 20mph zones in residential roads in the Oxford Road area is another side effect of the delays to the Cow Lane scheme.
“When eventually complete, the widening and lowering of the bridges will create an important alternative route for HGV’s, commercial and other traffic which are just passing through west Reading, resulting in a better and safer local environment for residents and businesses along the Oxford Road. New pedestrian and cycle routes under Cow Lane bridges will also be delivered as part of the scheme.
“I’m sure Network Rail would agree with local residents and the Council, that the sooner the Cow Lane scheme is delivered the better. ”
Network Rail have confirmed works are scheduled to start after Reading Festival in August 2017. Officers are currently awaiting a programme from Network Rail detailing the overall project plan.