The Cambridge to Oxford Rail project is promoted by the East West Rail Consortium – a group of local authorities and businesses with an interest in improving access to and from East Anglia and the Milton Keynes, South Midlands growth area. The project is broken down into three distinct areas: Western Section, Central Section and Eastern Section.
In a report published 16 November 2016, the National Infrastructure Commission asserts a lack of sufficient and suitable housing presents a fundamental risk to the success of the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Oxford Corridor. Without a joined-up plan for housing, jobs and infrastructure across the corridor, the NIC suggests it will be left behind its international competitors. By providing the foundations for such a strategy, a new east-west transport link presents a once in a generation opportunity to secure the area’s future success.
The NIC report argues that the East West Rail, Western Section between Oxford and Bedford, would help combat the Corridor’s current restrictions by reducing travel times, expanding the labour market catchment areas, and catalysing the development of new homes and communities. The report goes on to recommend that the Government should invest a further £100m into the Western section to allow its full completion before 2024, so as not to cause conflict with HS2’s development.
In the 2016 Autumn Statement, Chancellor Phillip Hammond, announced the additional £100m funding recommended by the NIC report to “accelerate” the construction of the Oxford-Cambridge Rail Western Section. Following the Government funding commitment the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, announced the creation of a new organisation to lead delivery of the Oxford to Cambridge rail route, further demonstrating the Government’s commitment to deliver vital infrastructure projects in the region. The new organisation called East West Rail will be independent of Network Rail and will secure private sector investment to design, build and operate the new line between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge – Britain’s first new integrated rail operation for decades.
With the additional investment announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement, the ‘Western Section‘ could be opened by 2024 and would see journey times cut from 140 minutes to just 61 minutes. The project will re-introducing passenger and freight services between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury as a result of track upgrading and reconstruction of sections of existing and ‘mothballed’ rail track.
Completion of the first phase of the Western Section connecting Oxford via Bicester to London Marylebone was officially opened by the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling on 12 December 2016 – on time and on budget– the first from a major British city in more than 100 years. Launching the new service the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Chris Grayling, said:
‘This is the first new rail link between a major British city and the capital in 100 years and also a shining example of partnership working between the private and public sector. From today travellers to and from London Marylebone and Oxford will get increased choice, more trains and faster journey times. The link is also an important part of the new East West line to be built between Oxford and Cambridge and will bring growth and prosperity to this corner of Britain.’
In the 2016 Autumn Statement Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced an additional £10m funding to continue development work to identify a preferred route for the central section to extend the line east of Bedford, via Sandy, to Cambridge.
Within the overall scheme, this is the most difficult and costly part of the route to reinstate as the former railway has been dismantled and the land disposed of. The line was closed in the 1960s. Many bridges have either been removed or are in a poor state of repair and the Bedford bypass severs the line.
In the 2017 Autumn Statement, the Chancellor reiterated his commitment to delivering East West Rail as quickly as possible. The Chancellor confirmed that by 2024 the western section of East West Rail will be complete, allowing services between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes. The new East West Rail Company was established to accelerate delivery of the central section between Bedford and Cambridge, aiming for completion by the mid-2020s and leveraging private sector investment.
The creation of the East West Rail Company was a significant development as it will oversee the restoration of the link between the two academic powerhouses of Oxford and Cambridge and ensure that it is delivered quickly and cost-effectively.
At the western end of the corridor, the enabling works at Bicester are nearing completion and this will lay the ground for construction as soon as possible. When complete, these enabling works will mean construction on the Western end of the East-West rail line – covering Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford – will be able to start from September next year.
In relation to the route of the railway line between Sandy and Cambridge, a final decision has not yet been made and Network Rail continue to consider all options.
Heidi has outlined her preference that the route should not pass through villages in the south of South Cambridgeshire as they are already served by rail services via stations at Foxton, Meldreth, Shepreth and Ashwell and Morden stations as well as the main station at Royston. Heidi would prefer the route to pass between Cambourne and Northstowe in order to provide much-needed public transport to existing and emerging communities and ensure that the route is more closely aligned to the Oxford to Cambridge A428 expressway.
It is hoped that a decision on the proposed route will be made soon so that there can then be a full public consultation on the possible routes – please check back for updates as they occur.
Heidi said: “I am delighted that Government is acting decisively to further support infrastructure in our region. East West Rail together with the Cambridge Oxford Expressway, will connect people and businesses to support continued economic growth and deliver housing and connectivity so our centre for science, technology and innovation continues to thrive contributing to the UK’s global success.”