Network Rail bosses admitted yesterday that a three-month project to replace a key bridge to allow electrification work on the Great Western mainline is set to over-run by four more months.
They told villagers living on the South Gloucestershire-Wiltshire border that their 'main priority' was to make sure work on the bridge at Acton Turville was completed before this year's Badminton Horse Trials, which take place a mile away in early May.
The work on the bridge was originally supposed to be finished before Christmas, and council chiefs in Wiltshire are now summoning Network Rail to a meeting to talk about the next stage of the project, which looks set to bring major disruption in and around Royal Wootton Bassett and Lyneham.
After Saturday's Western Daily Press revealed the extent of the problems faced by Network Rail and its contractors Balfour Beatty, Network Rail have finally given a new date for the completion of the most troublesome part of the work to date.
The firm is lifting and replacing a whole host of bridges along the railway line from Swindon to Bristol Parkway and the mainline to Bath and Bristol to allow electrification systems to be installed.
But the project has been hit by a series of calamities, including the discovery of bats roosting under the bridge at Acton Turville, a 350ft crane falling into a ditch on the Fosse Way as it tried to access another remote spot on the Cotswolds, and endless rain and high winds stopping work for days at a time.
In an email to outraged parish councillors and residents in villages around the Acton Turville bridge, a new date for completion was revealed. The main road across that part of the Cotswolds, the B4040 from Yate to Malmesbury, has been closed since September for a project that was supposed to take three months.
"As it stands at the moment, our programme of works will be complete on April 17, 2014," a Network Rail spokesman told Luckington parish councillor John Buckley. "We endeavour to try and make efficiencies on the programme where possible, but obviously our main priority is making sure that we are complete prior to the Badminton Horse Trials."
A spokesman for Network Rail told the Western Daily Press: "Things have been incredibly hard, and there have been lots of issues with the work. The discovery of bats is one thing, but the weather itself has been the worst, with heavy rain making the ground saturated. The high winds have meant it has been impossible at times to work. If it is a choice between working with these cranes in high winds and being safe, safety comes first."
The continued closure of the B4040 looks set to postpone another planned closure – this time for emergency sewage repairs – a few miles to the east, which were scheduled for Easter.
Local councillor John Thomson happens to be Wiltshire Council's cabinet member for highways, and he is summoning Network Rail to a meeting to discuss the ongoing problems.
Allison Bucknell, Lyneham's councillor, said Wiltshire was working hard with Network Rail to give residents the most possible notice of road closures, but as a statutory body, Network Rail had the power to order road closures with just a couple of weeks' notice.
A meeting of councillors from the affected areas, with Network Rail, is scheduled to take place in February.