Published: 13th November 2016
The campaign to reopen just 11 miles of disused railway line has been underway for several decades and it seemed that six years ago, funding was confirmed for the line to reopen. The mothballed line runs from a mile west of Bletchley to milepost 12 near Claydon Junction and is the vital link between the West Coast, Met & Great Central and Great Western main lines.
But the Department for Transport’s (DfT) bungled project management of the Great Western electrification costing several billion pounds more than envisaged, brought a halt to most other railway upgrades. These include the Midland Main Line electrification north of Bedford and the East West Rail re-opening - despite the latter having a business case that said for every pound spent another six would be generated, the best return on any current planned rail investment.
Initially the line was to be reopened as a 75mph non-electrified line but then this was upgraded to become a 100mph double track electrified line. Despite another round of consultation last year at which it was claimed that a Transport and Works Act application would be made by September 2016, the project has become a victim of the railway funding crisis.
Chiltern Railways delivered its franchise obligation in re-opening the line between Bicester and Oxford as a 100mph line with new stations at Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village and services from Marylebone extending to Oxford city centre in a few weeks.
But after the obvious cessation of physical works started two years ago, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has confirmed the Government’s commitment to deliver East West Rail at the earliest opportunity. At the November County Councils National Conference. He said: “East West Rail is important and exactly the type of project that is needed”.
Given that the Government will be announcing its spending priorities in the Autumn Statement in a few weeks, this was taken by the East West Rail Consortium of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships as a green light that the project was about to be kick-started again.
Cllr Rodney Rose, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council and Chairman of the Joint Delivery Board for East West Rail Western Section, said: “East West Rail is one of the top three rail investment projects in the UK.
When the Consortium handed its costed Prospectus across to Government in 2011 the scheme was forecast to give back £6 for every £1 spent, and have recouped its cost within five years of operating. It’s also forecast to deliver wider economic benefit to the tune of £200m per year.
“It’s vital that momentum is maintained and we deliver the next phase of East West Rail, from Bicester to Bedford, and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury, so that train services can provide the much-needed connectivity between these key areas of economic activity and population. This is the critical next step in re-establishing the key strategic link between Oxford and Cambridge.
“There is overwhelming support from the public, the business community and investors. We need to crack on and get it built so we can realise the opportunities it presents to boost the economy, create new jobs and support housing growth in the region.
“Following a period of uncertainty over delays due to pressure on the national rail budget, we’re optimistic that Government will now follow through on its commitment by making funds available for earliest possible completion. We continue to work closely with DfT and Network Rail to make this happen. We look forward to having a clear, realistic and accelerated delivery programme by January 2017.”
Cllr Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and Chairman of England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance, observed:
“I’m feeling positive and confident that we are about to see more rapid progress on East West Rail. It’s the top infrastructure priority for England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance, and six local enterprise partnerships in the heartland area. This will be a major step towards our long-held aspiration and strategic vision to reintroduce a railway between Bedford and Cambridge, connecting with the East Coast Mainline and East Anglia.
East West Rail Western Section Phase 2 will see the upgrade of the freight lines between Aylesbury, Claydon Junction and Bicester plus the reinstatement from Claydon to Bletchley line. Passenger trains will then run between Marylebone, Bedford and Milton Keynes via Aylesbury and to Oxford and beyond from the latter two places. Eventually, trains will also serve Cambridge and beyond using a new line between Bedford and Sandy.
Government support was announced in the 2011 Autumn Statement, confirmed in July 2012 and announced to be up and running by 2019 at the latest. After the pre-election promises were broken by the DfT, Sir Peter Hendy became Network Rail chairman tasked with revising all projects and the EWR opening date was put back up to five years. It is anticipated that a new opening date will be announced early in 2017.
But the EWR consortium has said that plans to electrify the line between Oxford and Bedford have been deferred bringing major savings on the construction costs but meaning diesel trains will have to be used.
The environmental and ecology surveys were carried out in 2014/2015 and vegetation clearance work carried out last year then work ceased.
Buckinghamshire County Council has spent £900,000 for a plot of land to build a station and car park at Winslow. This hectare of land is about half a mile west of the original station and will also become a local transport hub. It will be around 50 years since the original station closed to regular passenger trains when it opens.
Mark Shaw, County Council Transport Cabinet Member and Vice Chairman of the East West Rail (Western Section) Joint Delivery Board, described it as a significant moment in the county’s transport history. ‘This isn’t just about building a new railway, it holds the promise to support planned growth of 100,000 new jobs and 120,000 new homes along the East West Rail corridor.’