Upgrade in Berkshire due to open this spring reflects stifling bureaucracy and red tape that affects UK infrastructure planning and construction, according to local MP 

The completion of a new footbridge with lifts at a Berkshire railway station is reportedly 10 years behind schedule and over budget by £8.25m, prompting the local MP to cite it as a classic case of the “stifling bureaucracy and red tape” that affects UK infrastructure planning and construction.

Theale bridge

Source: Network Rail

Theale footbridge is set to open in spring, over 10 years behind schedule

Work on the footbridge at Theale, part of renovations to make the station wheelchair accessible, began in 2013, after it was given the green light by the Department for Transport, with a budget of £1.25m. In 2021, the budget for the bridge was increased to £9.5m. 

The upgrade works were approved by the DfT as part of its access for all programme, launched in 2006 to fund step-free access works at stations.

It is now expected that the footbridge and lifts will finally be open for use in the spring of this year. Great Western Railway will then begin work to expand the carpark. 

We have to get much better at untangling the stifling bureaucracy and red tape in our system

Alok Sharma, MP

Sir Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West, told the Daily Telegraph: “The redevelopment of Theale station is a classic case study in just how slowly even relatively small infrastructure projects are delivered in our country, with resultant cost increases having to be picked up by the taxpayer”.

He added: “We have to get much better at untangling the stifling bureaucracy and red tape in our system which holds back the time-efficient and cost-effective delivery of infrastructure.” 

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In 2018, Network Rail said that the delay in constructing the footbridge was due to the need to move a Great Western Railway ticket office because its original position could not be accessed safely during construction work. A new ticket office built in 2014 has not yet been opened because of delays to the footbridge.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We’re pleased to say the latest phase of improvements at Theale, a footbridge and lifts, will be complete in spring this year. Construction on the bridge began in 2023 after £9.5m funding was agreed in 2021, and we are on target to give customers a much better service at the station.”

Funding for the footbridge design work was announced in 2013, but the full project was not funded, and it was among those deferred following a report by Lord Hendy (then Sir Peter Hendy) into Network Rail’s investment programme in 2015. Work began again when a fully-funded programme could be created in 2021.

Network Rail has said that, in terms of cost, “while the average accessible footbridge costs between £3-5m, Theale station has three tracks and four platforms, and it is a very busy station for freight in particular. This means the opportunities to do work while trains are not running is limited.

”The extra width of those three tracks also means a longer span across the railway and more difficult construction.”