Small railway footbridge takes longer to build than Empire State …

One is a 102-storey giant regarded in its heyday as the eighth wonder of the world, the other a prefabricated footbridge at the Princess of Wales’s local railway station.

Yet the Empire State Building in New York took less time to build than Network Rail[1] is taking to complete a small pedestrian walkway on the London to Cornwall line.

Passengers have been left fuming at the interminably slow pace of work on the bridge at Theale station near Reading in Berkshire, where the Princess’s parents and siblings are often seen boarding trains to London.

Construction was already 10 years overdue when it began in January 2023 and it is not expected to open until spring 2024. In contrast, the Empire State Building, which was for decades the tallest building in the world, took just one year and 45 days to complete.

Sir Alok Sharma, Theale’s MP, described the footbridge saga as a “case study” in British bureaucracy and inefficiency.

[embedded content]

When the new bridge does finally open, it will be the first time wheelchair users will be able to catch trains from the station since it opened in 1847.

Funding for the upgrade to Theale station, which is the nearest station to Carole and Michael Middleton’s home in Bucklebury, Berkshire, was first announced in December 2011, with the budget set at £1.25 million.

A new ticket office was built in 2014 but is yet to open because of delays to the footbridge. In the meantime, the budget has rocketed to £9.5 million – coincidentally the same amount the Empire State Building cost to build.

The 13 years it will have taken for the village station to undergo its refresh – assuming there are no further delays – is the same length of time it took to build Big Ben or, according to the Bible, King Solomon’s Palace.

In the meantime, passengers access the platforms via steps down from a road bridge, which means there is no disabled access.

Sir Alok told The Telegraph: “The redevelopment of Theale station is a classic case study in just how slowly even relatively small infrastructure projects are delivered in our country, with resultant cost increases having to be picked up by the taxpayer.

“We have to get much better at untangling the stifling bureaucracy and red tape in our system which holds back the time-efficient and cost effective delivery of infrastructure.”

[embedded content]

David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Investment in accessibility improvements at Theale station is a welcome move to help passengers with disabilities travel with greater confidence, however the delays have been frustrating and disappointing.

“Passengers will want assurances that there will be no further delays and for the station to have step-free access as soon as possible.”

Caroline Stickland, chief executive of Transport for All, said any improvements to disabled access were welcome but “the pace of change must increase”.

She said the latest research found that almost half of disabled people report issues with lifts and a lack of step-free access at railway stations.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Plans to build a new footbridge with lifts at Theale station, part of the Department for Transport’s Access for All programme, were approved in January 2013 alongside a range of improvements including a new ticket office and expanded car park. At this time, funding was only provided for the ticket office and to progress design work for the footbridge.

“A new ticket office was built by Great Western Railway. In 2021, £9.5 million funding was awarded for Network Rail to build a footbridge and lifts. The new facilities are set to open to the public in spring 2024. Great Western Railway will then begin work to expand the car park.”


  1. ^ Network Rail (