In 2014, before the railway closed for rebuilding, there were no more than 10 freight trains a week through Bicester. Drivers would have been unlucky to be stuck at the level crossing. But soon there will be 10 or even 12 trains each hour. Experience of the current 4-trains-an-hour confirms the barriers are often closed for about 15 minutes in every hour. When the line to Bletchley opens in about 2023 the crossing will be closed for longer; up to 39 minutes each hour. That’s according to a study by Network Rail and Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) in 2015.
Level crossings remain a big risk for the railway; closure is the generally-preferred option if at all practicable. In all 37 level crossings were closed between Bicester and Oxford. And in July 2017 Network Rail showed plans for East West Rail, Phase 2 that would see all crossings closed on the line between Gavray Junction and Bletchley.
That means London Road will soon be the only level crossing remaining between Oxford and Bletchley. Why it was decided not to close the crossing when the line was rebuilt in 2014-15 is a bit of a mystery. The short answer is that it was thought “too difficult”!
It is obvious to most people that a level crossing that closes at least 25% of the time would adversely affect the flow of road traffic. And building more houses south of the railway at the same time as increasing the train service further is clearly only going to make matters worse. Yet OCC had said there are no plans to close the crossing permanently.
The Highways Authority evidently believed Bicester Village when they said the new rail link would reduce traffic – most local people would disagree.
However, they are now understood to be looking at various options for a tunnel or bridge. In January 2017, Network Rail published a report for Oxfordshire County Council, with their key findings. A tunnel appears to be the preferred option; the estimates for the anticipated final costs vary between £61 million and £65 million. Or approximately £44 million for an overbridge, although that option has not been evaluated to the same detail.
“Do nothing” is apparently not an option. Subject to funding, the hope is to get a solution in place before East West Rail opens through to Cambridge, maybe about 2030. Though the fact remains that it would have been much easier and cheaper to build a tunnel in 2015 before the train service was restored!