Millions of train commuters are facing up to ten weeks of travel disruption after a wobbly railway bridge over the River Thames in Oxfordshire was closed for emergency repairs.
The Nuneham viaduct was forced to shut on April 4 after an inspection found it to be unstable, cutting off the main line connecting the Midlands and northern England with the south coast.
Network Rail have now confirmed it is not expected to reopen for at least another eight weeks, until June 10.
The bridge, which is a few miles south of Oxford and connects the city to Didcot and Reading, requires urgent work due to ‘a lot of movement in the structure’.
Millions of train commuters face travel chaos after the wobbly Nuneham viaduct (pictured) was shut down for emergency repairs
The railway bridge is located a few miles south of Oxford and takes trains over the River Thames
It had been monitored for a number of months, but measures put in place to make its foundations more secure had not worked.
There are knock-on effects for timetables across the south of England, reaching up to the Midlands and the North.
Rail replacement bus services from CrossCountry and Great Western Railway are running to keep passengers on the move, as well as local shuttle rail services between Didcot and Appleford and Culham, and between Radley and Oxford.
Furious commuters took to social media to express their grievances, with two comparing the closure to the blockage in the Suez Canal that brought global trade to its knees in 2018.
Jackie on Twitter said: ‘The closure of Nuneham viaduct between Oxford and Reading for me is like when the Suez Canal got blocked by the Ever Given.’
Another Twitter agreed: ‘The Nuneham viaduct partial collapse is my personal Suez Canal blockage.’
The railway bridge was experiencing ‘a lot of movement’ before it was closed for safety reasons
Helena Downton on Facebook branded it a ‘total pain’, while James Cope said: ‘Looks like I’m 100% remote until it’s fixed.’
Simona Leon exclaimed: ‘Oxford is becoming a remote island, before 15 minute City closes its gates.’
JasonSarah Spencer-Buckel wrote: ‘I think it’s shocking that this vital maintenance wasn’t picked up/carried out by ‘whoever’ is responsible for it. An annual season ticket incl. all zone travel was £6696.00 from Oxford to Paddington, which has just increased to over £7000.00!’
Kate Moore added: ‘It is an impressive level of broken!! Can advise that the Rail Replacement Bus here is also struggling to be on time or arrive in a timely manner. However long you think it will take: double it.’
Also having issues with the buses was Graham Davies, who said on Friday: ‘Seemed to be hundreds of people waiting for rail replacement buses at Didcot this morning and only one bus.’
Romy Jane Ashmore noted that there was ‘no point in renewing my railcard then’, but Sonia Dods said: ‘Annoyingly, I have recently renewed my rail card!’
Network Rail has confirmed that the bridge is not expected to reopen until June 10
Rory Carter said: ‘As usual NR and GWR have no (sic) considered anyone beyond the immediate rail user too, no [unfoldable] bikes are allowed to be taken on the replacement bus services, which has a big effect on those of us who cycle beyond the station and do not take the bus. It’s about time they took responsibility for their failings and starting providing a service for EVERYONE.’
Rosalind Richardson urged: ‘Need to put longer trains from Oxford, I had to stand from [Oxford Parkway] into London 3 carriages !!! Full from Oxford.
‘Think about it, if people can’t travel through Didcot because of the damage to the viaduct. They go through Oxford Parkway, so double capacity than normal !! Hence need longer trains.’
On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the infrastructure provider said: ‘Network rail has confirmed that it is now working to install a temporary structure that will stabilise the viaduct at Nuneham in Oxfordshire in order for trains to run again between Didcot Parkway and Oxford by 10 June.’
Apologising to passengers, Nicky Hughes, Network Rail Western’s communications director, said in a video posted to Twitter: ‘We’re really sorry for passengers and freight users that we’ve had to close this critical stretch of the line between Didcot and Oxford.
‘That’s because the bridge… is starting to move and it’s moving now to the extent that we don’t consider it safe to run trains over.
‘We’ve been monitoring this bridge for a number of months now and we’ve been taking measures to try and make the foundations of the bridge more secure, but unfortunately, those measures don’t appear to be working.’
Passengers travelling from the Midlands and North into London will be affected
She said that ‘significant rainfall’ in the past month had added to the structural problems with the bridge.’
Ms Hughes concluded: ‘Because the structure is not safe, we cannot run passenger and freight trains over it. That’s why we’ve had to close it.’
Freight trains, which usually use this route to travel to and from Southampton Docks, will be operating on alternative routes, including via Acton in West London.
Network Rail said it would be able to share more details of its plans on Wednesday.
The rail bridge at Nuneham, which has stood for over 100 years since being completed in 1907, was deemed unsafe after cracks appeared and it was said to be ‘shaking’.
Engineers are said to have been working ’round the clock’ since the line was closed last Tuesday.
Network Rail announced: ‘We are now working to install a temporary structure that will stabilise the viaduct at Nuneham in Oxfordshire in order for trains to run again between Didcot Parkway and Oxford by 10 June.
‘Engineers have been working round the clock since the line was closed for safety concerns on 4 April and are now able to confirm this timescale.
Rail replacement bus services are being provided, as well as local shuttle train services
‘To help keep passengers moving GWR, CrossCountry, Chiltern Railways and Network Rail, are working closely together with a revised timetable in operation for the duration of the line closure, with a rail replacement service and local shuttle services running. Please check before you travel with your train operator or National Rail Enquiries.
‘Freight trains will continue to operate on alternative rail routes, including via Acton in West London.
‘We are sorry for the inconvenience this issue will cause as we work to make this viaduct safe for passenger and freight trains to run again.’
David Davidson, Network Rail’s interim Western route director, said: ‘We are disappointed that the work we’ve done so far hasn’t been successful and our efforts haven’t been helped by the wettest March in over 30 years.
Commuters branded the closure a ‘total pain’ and compared it to the Suez Canal blockage in 2018
‘Safety is our top priority and our engineers are now working round the clock to identify what can be done to make this viaduct safe for passenger and freight trains to run again.’
GWR spokesman Paul Gentleman said: ‘This has been a major impact on customers, lots of disruption as a result of this line closure.
‘We have been able to operate a rail replacement service between Oxford and Didcot but I’m afraid this disruption will continue. The bridge will remain closed.’
Maggie Simpson, director general of Rail Freight Group, said: ‘We run around 40 freight trains on that route. That’s the equivalent of around 2,000 lorries.
‘Those trains are carrying vital and important goods, retail products – the things we buy in the shops every day, imports, exports, even finished cars..’
She added ‘Container trains, the big metal boxes, can only go on certain routes.
‘It’s absolutely the worst case scenario to put those goods on a lorry, and we’re trying to avoid that.’