On my usual morning walk on Friday 7th, I was able to cross the Great Western Main Line with no hint of any new official notices. However, by Friday evening the footpath crossing was blocked – for up to a month and possibly up to six. Surely the powers-that-be are joking?
The official notice was apparently issued on 25th May jointly by Network Rail and Wiltshire Council, and explains that “The closure is implemented in the interests of public safety due to testing of the electrification of the railway. Heras fencing will be erected across the stile or gate, with signage put up.” The closure was to come into force on 6th June – well, we know about the problems when railway timetables are announced; there was at least a 30-hour delay.
Heras fencing? It’s a plastic barrier on the south side, though the one on the north is as specified.
Now, I wouldn’t like to have 25,000 volts coursing through my body, and there are copious signs warning of the dangers of electric power – but what additional dangers are there between now and 2nd July? No-one was working at or near the crossing yesterday or today.
I decided to try the closest detour to complete a circular walk. After submitting myself and the dogs to the danger of walking a good third of the detour on a public road, I arrived back at the other side of the crossing 45 minutes later.
I’m sure that electrification will be a real benefit once it’s in regular use, but this whole project has been dogged by delays and unexpected costs. The Great Western electrification is working out at around £4 million a kilometre, though the overhead wires are only made of copper, not gold. Elsewhere in the UK, Scottish electrification’s just over £1 million a kilometre, so the whole scheme seems heavily over-engineered.
One unexpected cost was a temporary by-pass to A-road standards so that road users could avoid a 30 mile detour while bridges were rebuilt. This added a good £3 million to the bill, to save motorists about 45 minutes on their journey.
Wait a minute – it took me 45 minutes for my detour, so why not a temporary footbridge instead of closing the footpath crossing?
I had an opportunity this evening to show the effect of electrification on our local line. A Steam Special was on its way back from Kingswear in South Devon to Slough, and I walked to where the railway and canal run parallel to get the best view among the forest of masts and wires. The train had been delayed 11 minutes at a junction near Chippenham, but by the time it reached Swindon it had made up 6 of those minutes. It passed me at an impressive speed just before sunset.
Soon afterwards it crossed the closed footpath, seen in the distance beyond the summer hedge of bee-covered comfrey.
How soon before I can cross the closed footpath, I wonder? I’m counting the days.