One of the biggest transport infrastructure projects in the country will soon be underway. With the various elements taken together the upgrade of Reading station will cost just under £1bn and will remove one of the worst bottlenecks on the rail system in the country. Reading remains one of the key rail interchanges in the country, with major lines meeting that run East-West between South Wales and London, as well as North-South links. There are also freight as well as passenger lines.
The project is being managed by Network Rail, Reading Borough Council and the Department for Transport together, with Network Rail leading on the enlarging of the station and the new lines, in partnership with the other two partners. Reading Borough Council will lead on the design and building of the new concourses and integration with the other key mode of transport.
Phase 1 (From now until 2012)
New platforms will be built to the north of the existing platforms; the existing rail depot will be relocated from within the triangle at Cow Lane to land adjacent to the main line.
Phase 2 (From 2012 to 2015)
Both Cow Lane bridges will be replaced as the grade separation of the Great Western Mainline and the Southampton-Birmingham lines is completed.
Funding is currently being sought to enable Reading Borough Council to design and build a spectacular concourse to the south of the station that would be on two levels, allowing easy pedestrian access to the station. It would also need to tie in with the proposed new Station Hill development to create an exciting open public space where pedestrians do not have to compete with row of buses and taxis. The concept is that buses would use a new northern interchange which would have its own concourse.
The concept designs for the new station and concourses are exciting and very attractive and a massive improvement on the congested and run down feel of the existing station frontage. However, there are issues that may prove controversial. Buses would have to be relocated from the front of the station and Reading Transport is already suggesting new town centre routes and pick up points. As a result here would need to be some significant changes to existing town centre roads with some one-way streets made two-way or the direction reversed; other two-way roads may be made one-way.
The key for me is that as the plans evolve all users are informed and consulted. I am keen to see the public concourses unobstructed and attractive but it must not be made impossible for car users to pick up and drop off passengers. At present I have some concerns about accessibility. Similarly I want to see better access and secure storage for cyclists and motorcyclists, and buses, coaches and taxis must be easily accessible and obvious to find. It is also vital that Sackville’s new Station Hill proposal is effectively integrated into the new station building.
This is a massive “once in a lifetime” scheme and if we get it right Reading will have a station, transport interchange and surroundings to be proud of. Indeed it should be one of the best and biggest in the country. If we get it wrong we will have missed an opportunity and lumbered future generations with more problems to resolve.
I am encouraged by the approach of Council Transport planners to date. Councillors have been kept informed of progress at all stages and an effective communications strategy and consultations will be essential. There is still money to be obtained through bids to Government agencies to ensure that we have the best possible outcome and in these difficult times we cannot take success for granted. However, the bulk of the money is ring-fenced and we are about to see initial works begin. There will be some inconvenience but the final result should be well worth while.
(NOTE: All illustrations in this article are concept drawings only and should not be taken as firm designs for the final station and its surroundings)