Rail passengers on the move again through Nuneham as major project to replace 160-year-old viaduct support completes ahead of schedule: Nuneham Viaduct reopens to passenger services 09062023

Friday 9 Jun 2023

Rail passengers on the move again through Nuneham as major project to replace 160-year-old viaduct support completes ahead of schedule

Region & Route:
Wales & Western
| Wales & Western: Western

Engineers have worked around the clock to safely reopen Nuneham Viaduct, in Oxfordshire, a day early, on Friday 9 June, following an intensive ten-week programme of work. 

The railway between Didcot and Oxford was closed on Monday 3 April after significant movements in the viaduct were detected due to emerging structural issues with the south bank abutment (structure that supports the bridge). The abutment was built as part of the original viaduct in 1856. 

The rail industry, including Great Western Railway (GWR), Chiltern Railways and CrossCountry, worked closely to keep passengers moving during the closure, whilst Network Rail’s engineers and contractors at Balfour Beatty carried out emergency repairs, which completed, ahead of schedule. Network Rail also worked with freight operators to keep goods moving throughout by diverting trains via London.

On Friday 9 June, the first passenger service to cross the viaduct in just under ten weeks was a GWR shuttle train between Oxford and Didcot. A full timetable for all train operators is planned to resume from Saturday 10 June.

A major project

Around 800 people have worked nearly 60,000 hours, to successfully install the new steel support, which will secure the future of this important rail link for generations to come. 

In the final week of the major project, the 150-tonne bridge was lowered onto the new abutment, a new embankment built, before the railway tracks and cables were put back in place. 

The repair of the viaduct has been complex, challenging and required some heavy engineering: 

  • 24 x 15m long steel piles were driven into the bed of the River Thames to create a solid platform for the temporary structure that held the weight of the viaduct while the abutment was demolished and rebuilt.  
  • Eight more piles were driven up to 20m into the embankment to support the new structure. 
  • A 750-tonne crane was used to lift the temporary structure into place. 
  • 4,500 tonnes of material removed from the old embankment  
  • 5,500 tonnes of material brought back in to build the new embankment 

Engineers will remain on site for up to 12 weeks to finish works and demobilise the construction site, working outside of train operating hours, whilst track, signalling and station upgrades continue in Oxford city centre*.  

Network Rail capital delivery director Stuart Calvert said: “We’re extremely pleased to be able to reopen the railway through Nuneham, ahead of schedule, on Friday 09 June. 

“A complex and challenging repair like this would normally take two to three years to complete, but thanks to the hard work and dedication of our talented teams of engineers, and industry experts, this major project has been turned around in just under ten weeks.  

“Once again, I would like to thank our passengers, freight customers, local community and our industry partners for their patience, understanding and support whilst we carried out this work, which will protect this important rail link for generations to come.” 

Michael Sheridan, Regional Operations Director at Balfour Beatty said: "We are immensely proud to have safely and successfully reopened Nuneham Viaduct ahead of schedule.

"This major undertaking required significant skill and expertise and is a testament to our 800-strong, dedicated team who worked around the clock to safeguard this crucial rail link for generations to come."

Mark Hopwood, Managing Director at Great Western Railway, said: “We’re delighted Network Rail has been able to finish its work ahead of schedule and we have been able to reintroduce services between Oxford and Didcot. We look forward to welcoming people back and thank them for their patience and understanding over the past two months.  

“This is a crucial part of our network and I’d like to thank our colleagues at Network Rail and fellow train operators for their support and hard work throughout this difficult period. I’d also like to thank GWR colleagues who have gone above and beyond to keep customers on the move.” 

Elizabeth Jackson, Customer Service Manager for the West & Wales at CrossCountry said: “We’re very pleased the line has now reopened, which is good news for customers.  

“We worked collaboratively with industry colleagues to ensure customers were impacted as little as possible and, now Network Rail’s work is complete, CrossCountry customers will benefit from direct connectivity from Reading and Oxford to the Midlands and North East, from Saturday 10 June.” 

Richard Allan, Managing Director at Chiltern Railways, said: “We are relieved that repairs to the Nuneham Viaduct have been completed after a challenging two months for customers. 

“Chiltern has allocated 4,000 additional seats to its route between London and Oxford every weekday since 17 April - moving capacity from other routes to Oxford - to try and meet the significant increase in demand caused by the closure of the Paddington route. 

"We know that our services have been busier than usual because of the viaduct closure, and thank our customers for their patience.” 

Huw Merriman MP, Minister of State for Rail said: “It’s welcome news that services will return for rail passengers and commuters in Oxfordshire, after what has been a disruptive couple of months.  

“I would like to thank travellers and freight operators for their patience as well as Network Rail for carrying out this essential work so efficiently.” 

Notes to Editors

*From Saturday 29 July until the early hours of Monday 7 August Network Rail will be working to upgrade the track just north of Oxford Station - installing new high speed crossovers. To the south of the station,  Osney Lane footbridge will be modified, moving one of the piers to make way for track layout changes. Work will also be carried out to adjust the coping stones on platforms inside the station. 

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Kathy Peart
Media relations manager
Network Rail

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We own, operate and develop Britain's railway infrastructure; that's 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We run 20 of the UK's largest stations while all the others, over 2,500, are run by the country's train operating companies.

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