Railway Cul-De-Sacs to become the Outer London Orbital Railway in Five Years Time

Published 22nd October 2012

Aylesbury - Key phase in the construction of the East-West Rail link ‘The M25 of Railways' launched

The East-West Rail link (EWRL) project celebrated reaching a key milestone on October 12 when a special train was planned from Aylesbury to Bicester Town and Claydon. On the day, flooding prevented the train reaching Bicester by a short distance!

A temporary platform was built at Claydon allowing invited passengers to alight from the Chiltern Railways Class 168 train, No. 168109. The train was operated as the main part of an event organised as part of the EWRL Joint Delivery Board’s (JDB) third meeting.

The JDB is chaired by Milton Keynes north MP Iain Stewart and the day included a briefing session at the former Oxford LNWR station Rewley Road, which was relocated to The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.

University Challenge

The former Varsity Line, which used to link Oxford and Cambridge, will be electrified between Bletchley and Oxford with an upgraded but unelectrified diverging route to Aylesbury. The whole new network will reopen for passenger service in December 2017.

The project will, the backing consortium say, boost the economy, create employment and provide wider travel choices for the region. The EWRL Consortium (EWRLC) members were buoyed by the then Transport Secretary Justine Greening's go-ahead for extra funding to allow electrification for the project given on July 16.

The original estimate was £270 million to reopen the line for passenger services between Bicester, Winslow and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes, but with electrification, the project cost reaches £400m. The balance of the funding has been provided by the Government, possibly to try and head off political opposition to HS2. Local Authorities on the line of route will spend up to £50m supporting the scheme.

HS2 Interchange?

The EWRL crosses HS2 at Calvert which is also where the High Speed line’s maintenance depot will be located. Should a passenger interchange be provided between the two new lines, most local NIMBY opposition would be quashed at a stroke by providing huge benefits to the local population.

Following the July Government funding announcement, the EWRLC formed a joint delivery board to deliver the project. Membership comprises of senior representatives from the EWRLC, Network Rail and the Department for Transport who will oversee and facilitate the development of the scheme.

The project re-opens ten miles of closed railway between Newton Longville, a mile west of Bletchley, and Claydon to the east. It will recreate a main line to full passenger standards along the former Great Central Railway section between Aylesbury Vale Parkway and Calvert. This is a key link enabling services to link Milton Keynes with Aylesbury.

End of The Preserved Line?

This could however, hinder the operations at The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre as the main line platforms are leased from Network Rail and with 90mph trains running through the Victorian station, may end the lease to cut the platforms back.

HS2 also dissects the railway centre there and had plans to extend their line towards the A41 rebuilding the Brill Tramway come to fruition a decade ago, then they would have been protected by what is known as ‘Grandfather Rights’.

They said

The EWRLC Chairman Peter hardy said, “East West Rail gets rid of the cul-de-sac railways of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire - where you can't get any further north than Aylesbury or go east from Bicester”.

The Transport Minister Norman Baker said: “This is an excellent project of strategic importance. As part of the “Electric Spine” from the South Coast through Reading, Oxford, Bedford and via the Midland Main Line to the East Midlands and South Yorkshire it will offer faster journey times, new route possibilities and low carbon reliable electric train services to cater for growing demand.”

Strategic Importance

The investment acknowledges the strategic importance of the route which will provide connections with the West Coast, Midland and Great West Main Lines creating a major new cross-country route. It is intended to relieve the heavy traffic on the A34 and roads between Milton Keynes, Bicester and Aylesbury.

The financial benefits will start with construction and then follow with new commuter flows in a fast growing area linking Oxford, Aylesvbury and Milton Keynes.

What happens next?

The Project Delivery Board will now agree specific areas of responsibility for each member of the tripartite group, ahead of commissioning an environmental impact assessment and starting work on preliminary designs.

The long term plan is to extend east of Bedford and back to the East Coast Main Line but this section has long been disposed of.

Work completed

Some of the required work has been completed under cover of other projects. Much of the route between Oxford and Bicester is included in Chiltern Railways‟ Evergreen 3 project which is expected to be under construction next year.

Platform 2A at Milton Keynes Station is a new platform for EWRL trains and was completed in 2008 as part of the West Coast Mainline improvements. It is currently used for the Southern services to Croydon so careful planning will be required as it is only a four carriage long platform..

The end of The Cross Country Line

The rest of the line remained open until the decline in freight and aggregates traffic during the 1980s combined with the new Chiltern ‘Turbo’ depot opening in Aylesbury resulted in the section between Bletchley and Claydon Junction being mothballed in May 1993.

The aggregate traffic ceased as Milton Keynes road construction was virtually completed and the Bletchley based first generation DMUs that formed the Aylesbury and Marylebone services were replaced by Class 165s based at the new Aylesbury depot, thus removing the stock moves.

Waste tip keeps line open for 50 years

The waste disposal site at Calvert continued to be served by waste trains from Bristol running via Oxford, reversing at Claydon Junction. Without this landfill site, the surrounding railway lines would have been closed as part of the Beeching cuts and the new railway would not have been possible.

Similar services from London ran via Aylesbury on part of the former Great Central Main Line to Calvert.

Proposed train services

Hourly: Reading - Oxford - Bicester Town - Bletchley - Milton Keynes

Hourly: Reading - Oxford - Bicester Town - Bletchley - Bedford

Hourly: Bletchley - Bedford all stations

Hourly: London Marylebone - High Wycombe - Princes Risborough - Aylesbury - Bletchley - Milton Keynes (as an extension to the Aylesbury Vale Parkway service)

This proposal will be reviewed in 2015 and confirmed in revised franchise arrangements. It is estimated the line will bring up to 12,000 new jobs to the area and will add up to 2.58 million rail trips annually removing up to 1.5 million car journeys annually.

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Posted on Wednesday 24th October 2012 | 9:31 AM

What about east of Bedford towards the ECML & Cambridge? It is vital that planners "safeguard" a suitable alignment for this re-opening and that trains serve Bedford (not a station like The Wixams) on the outskirts. A replication of the Bletchley/Milton Keynes Central situation must not be repeated at Bedford!

Andrew Long

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