Anger as 18-month delay announced for step-free access at Biggleswade station

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Network Rail has been accused of "letting down disabled people in Biggleswade" after revealing an 18-month delay to the train station's step free access project.

The railway company says it is "committed to delivering an Access for All scheme" at Biggleswade station, which will see a ramped footbridge with lifts and stairs installed. However, the town's MP and campaign group Bedfordshire Rail Access Network (BRAN) have been left upset following news that instead of being finished in June 2023, the project's new target for completion is January 2025.

Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire, said: "The people of Biggleswade will rightly feel let down by Network Rail given that the project was awarded funding by the Department for Transport in 2019. Along with Julian Vaughan, Chair of BRAN, I will be writing to Network Rail to ask for a definite date of entry into service of a step-free station and to understand the cause of these delays.”

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Julian Vaughan, chair of BRAN, told the Chronicle: "All three of us [BRAN representatives] are very angry, and it is safe to say that this was the worst, most disappointing meeting we've had. They are letting down disabled people in Biggleswade and the surrounding areas."

The BRAN team are (from left to right) Paul Day, Natalie Doig, Fiona Carey and Julian Vaughan. Image: BRAN.The BRAN team are (from left to right) Paul Day, Natalie Doig, Fiona Carey and Julian Vaughan. Image: BRAN.
The BRAN team are (from left to right) Paul Day, Natalie Doig, Fiona Carey and Julian Vaughan. Image: BRAN.

Mr Vaughan and his fellow representatives Fiona Carey and Paul Day met with Network Rail, Govia Thameslink Railway, Richard Fuller MP and Central Bedfordshire Council on February 3, where they were informed of the delay.

He claimed: "As of July last year, Network Rail removed the scope of the stairs from the sceme. But BRAN asked for them to be reinstated. However, Network Rail is now allowing a six-month detailed design period for the stairs. But they must have been doing some design work before as the stairs were part of the original plans? We just don't see how it could cause so much of a delay."

The railway company listed "design changes" as one of the factors for contributing to the delay, and told the Chronicle that "after listening to feedback from stakeholders, staircases will be included in the design".

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"The detailed design phase will recommence next month (March 2023) and then we’ll look to appoint a contractor for the work," it said.

Network Rail also told the Chronicle that "financial review and re-pricing", as well as "construction challenges" were to blame. It continued: "We have been searching for a solution to provide a 16-person wheelchair-friendly lift while leaving enough space between the lift doors and the platform edge to keep people safe."

However, Mr Vaughan claimed: "We do not find it credible that two years on from seeing the design of the platforms that Network Rail have raised safety clearances as issues. This is the first time they have talked about clearances, ever. They seem to be fobbing us off, covering up poor governance of the project."

Thomas Mills, sponsor for Network Rail said: “We want everybody to be able to travel by train easily, so we’re really sorry that our project to improve accessibility at Biggleswade station is delayed. Next month, we’ll restart our detailed design phase and plan the programme carefully to deliver this important scheme while causing the least disruption for passengers, with a target to open the new lifts by the end of January 2025.”

He added: “We’re listening to feedback and have changed our plans to now include stairs as well as a ramp and wheelchair-friendly lifts.”

Network Rail is aiming to start work on site in early 2024, ready to open the new accessibility features by the end of Jan 2025.