For the first time in over 50 years passengers could be travelling directly between Oxford and Bedford, and Milton Keynes and Aylesbury, unlocking the region’s housing potential as the East West Rail project moves a step closer.
A ‘mothballed’ section of the railway between Bletchley and Claydon Junction could be brought back to life, with plans for major signalling and track upgrades set to connect communities and businesses along the route and beyond.
Work could begin as early as next year if Network Rail plans submitted to the Secretary of State for Transport to construct phase 2 of the project between Bicester and Bedford are approved.
The East West Rail project is being built in phases, and once complete will create a rail link connecting Oxford, Bicester, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge.
With phase 1 between Oxford and Bicester already complete, phase 2 proposes major track and signalling upgrades between Bicester, Bedford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, including the reinstatement of a ‘mothballed’ section of railway between Bletchley and Claydon Junction.
Colin Murphy, head of consenting and environment for Network Rail, East West Rail project said: “The submission of the Transport and Works Act Order is a culmination of four years of work developing the scheme and follows three rounds of community consultation, where we’ve continually refined our proposal based on the views of the community and planning experts. We have carried out a comprehensive programme of consultation to understand the impact of our proposals.
The TWAO application also coincides with East West Railway Company taking on new responsibilities for overseeing the successful delivery of the entire project. East West Rail is a major project to establish a strategic railway connecting East Anglia with Central, Southern and Western England.
Rob Brighouse, chairman at East West Railway Company said: “As a dedicated delivery body, East West Railway Company’s role is to streamline decision making and ensure the project is delivered quickly and cost-effectively.
“Today’s announcement by Network Rail is very welcome and shows our shared commitment to move all elements of the project from planning to delivery as quickly as possible.”
Councillor Mark Shaw, chairman of the East West Rail Consortium, which has campaigned for the reopening of this rail service since 1995, said: “East West Rail will drastically reduce journey times within the region, bringing key economic and cultural centres within easy reach of each other.
“After more than 20 years of campaigning, the submission of the TWAO is a hugely significant milestone, marking the final stage in acquiring permission to reopen the rail lines between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes.”
Mayor Dave Hodgson, chair of England’s Economic Heartland’s Strategic Transport Forum, said: “The Government has made realising the huge economic potential of this region a national priority and East West Rail is fundamental to delivering this. It will support new jobs and housing and also be a catalyst for regenerating the towns and cities across its route.
“We now need the route between Bedford and Cambridge to be confirmed as soon as possible, so that delivery of the full scheme can be achieved within the Government’s stated target of the mid-2020s.”
East West Rail phase 2 is part of the wider East West Rail scheme to connect Cambridge to Oxford. The Western Section (phase 1), which operates services between Oxford and Bicester was completed in December 2016. The Western Section (phase 2) proposes to extend services from Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury. The Central Section (phase 3) will see the full reconnection from Cambridge to Oxford, and the proposal is currently in development.