by Phil Marsh

Work on the East-West Rail line commences as £45 million is pledged from local authorities.

Published: 19th February 2014

Special train marks the end of one line as vegetation clearance commences on mothballed line

The railways are growing. The boom in rail usership has brought several notable railway reopenings and work has commenced on the latest section to be reopened.

This is between Newton Longville and Claydon – a distance of just over 11 miles. This is significant because it will allow trains to run between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury in four years’ time.

Network Rail (NR) has announced that they will be starting vegetation clearance and topographical and winter ecology surveys on the 11 mile section of track, last used in May 1993. This is in preparation for work which will upgrade the railway line between Claydon Junction and Bedford as a 100mph electrified major route.

Railway desert to railway hub

This area of north Buckinghamshire became a station-free zone after the mass closures in the 1960s but is now set to become a strategic national rail hub when the lines reopen. Adjacent sections of track, closed to passenger trains nearly half a century ago, will also be turned from freight only routes to a main line passenger route. The line from Bicester to Oxford was reopened 25 years ago and the remaining sections from Aylesbury and Bicester to Claydon remained open to serve the Calvert waste terminal landfill site.

The line from Bicester to oxford has now been closed for two years while the existing line is ripped up and is replaced with a new double track electrified railway. The main vegetation clearance work will be taking place on the stretch of mothballed line from near Steeple Claydon to Bletchley. Some work will also be carried out along the existing freight only railway between Bicester and Steeple Claydon.

Ecologists will be present while the works are underway to assess potential bat roosts in trees, structures and buildings while also advising on any activities to make sure that they do not impact on local ecology.

Those that live adjacent to the line will be written to by NR telling them when work is likely to affect them. May have encroached onto the lineside with several greenhouses built on the line!

Local Authorities confirm £45 million funding package for the line

The many local authorities that make up the East West Rail Consortium will contribute £45m to help fund the project it has been announced. The commitment was made in a letter presented to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport Stephen Hammond MP at a VIP event hosted by the East West Rail Consortium and the All Party Parliamentary Group for East West Rail, at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

When the Department for Transport announced its support and funding for the Consortium’s proposal in July 2012 to upgrade and re-open sections of the former ‘Varsity Line’ between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury it was conditional on funding being made by the local authorities on the route.

The consortium said;

Cllr Blake said: “Members of the East West Rail Consortium have worked single-mindedly to establish a robust business case for the re-instatement of an east-west rail link to improve transport connections within the region and nationally.

“Our investment in East West Rail, when all local authority budgets are under such pressure, demonstrates the importance of this scheme and our confidence in the substantial economic, social and environmental benefits it will bring.”

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Stephen Hammond MP said:

“There is no doubt that East West Rail will bring many benefits for people living and working in the region it will serve. But this is also a scheme of national importance that will form part of the national strategic infrastructure. More and more people are travelling by rail and we need the additional capacity and opportunities for more and different journeys to be made by rail.”

The minister acknowledged that East West Rail was a pioneering project and in addition to thanking the Consortium for their contribution, acknowledged that the local knowledge and expertise of the local authorities within the Consortium would continue to be important to the successful delivery of the railway.

Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group, (APPG) stressed the importance of East West Rail as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation, as well as reducing road congestion. “By joining Oxford, the science parks, Milton Keynes, Bedford and beyond, you’re connecting the nerve centres of the British economy, the places that will keep our economy growing. East West Rail is unlocking this enormous potential and making the whole region more attractive for inward investment from the UK and abroad.”

Go west young man - but what about the east?

Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and Deputy Chair of the APPG, said the development of the Western section was excellent news but that realising the full vision for East West Rail was the most exciting prospect, providing a rail link all the way from East Anglia, through Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire for the first time.

Adil Chaudhrey, Project Director at Atkins, explained the work that Atkins are currently undertaking on behalf of the East West Rail Consortium will identify the economic benefits that may be derived from improved infrastructure and transport links in the region. This will form a foundation for subsequent work to develop a business case for the extension of the East West Rail line east of Bedford.

Several years ago the council approved the construction of some boating lakes on the former trackbed which may now prove expensive to get round.

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