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'Use this chance to improve Hinksey rail bridge'
PLANS to replace a vital bridge linking a village to Oxford must be rethought to help OAPs, parents and cyclists, residents say.
The Government is to replace the long footbridge over the sidings between South Hinksey and South Oxford as part of railway electrification plans.
South Hinksey villagers say it is the perfect opportunity to make the bridge – flanked by steep flights of steps – more accessible.
But Network Rail cash is only available for a £900,000 like-for-like replacement, and ramps would cost a further £750,000.
A letter from councillors to the Government says: “This bridge is crucially important for the communities on either side of the railway.
“The footpath it carries provides the only pedestrian link between the village of South Hinksey and Oxford.
“As such it is well-used – but there are also many people for whom the existing bridge presents an insurmountable barrier.”
Parents and cyclists struggle to get up the bridge and the disabled have to use another route, it says.
It includes a link to a YouTube video of a mum struggling with a buggy up the steps.
South Hinksey mum-of-two Julia Tandy, 35, says she dreads the climb with Alice, two, and seven-month-old Marianne, seven months.
She said: “I have a pushchair on my shoulder and my other daughter in a sling. That is a combined weight of nearly 30kg.”
Nanny Emma Fowler, 32, who negotiates it with five youngsters, said: “It is a mission. I am up and down five times each trip. Subsequently we don’t go as often as we could.”
Former South Hinksey resident Lucinda McDonald is glad she no longer faces the daily climb after moving to Botley.
The mum-of-two, 39, said: “It was terrible. It seems ridiculous to me that there isn’t a ramp.
“There are so many people who would like to use their bike but can’t.”
A cycle tyre groove will be added to the steps of the new bridge – expected by 2014 – to help cyclists push bikes to the top.
Ramps could be added later, Network Rail said.
But spokesman Chris Denham said Department for Transport (DfT) cash was to only replace the bridge like-for-like.
The “considerable length” of the ramp and the need to put supports into Hinksey Lake explained the £750,000 cost, he said. And he added the new bridge does not need to comply with disability access laws as it is a replacement and not new. It needs to be raised as part of plans to electrify the line.
Mr Denham said: “If we were going to improve every bridge we replace on the way it would very quickly increase the cost, possibly with terminal consequences.”
The DfT said last night that it was considering the letter.