COUNCILS which have been campaigning for East West Rail between Oxford and Cambridge are describing a Department for Transport funding announcement as ‘a milestone worth celebrating’.
The DfT said on Saturday that it is investing £794 million in the restoration of two routes which were closed to passenger trains in the 1960s.
Most of the money will go to rebuilding East West Rail between Bicester and Bletchley, but £34 million will be used to ‘rapidly progress’ plans to reopen the line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington.
Work is already underway to renew the former railway between Bicester and Bletchley, which will eventually allow trains to run from Oxford to Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford.
Trains currently run between Oxford and Bicester and between Bletchley and Bedford. This is the only section which was never closed to passengers, but it is to be upgraded.
A preferred ‘corridor’ has also been identified between Bedford and Cambridge, while an existing line presently used for freight will allow trains to run north from Aylesbury to join the route of East West Rail at Claydon Junction, between Bicester and Bletchley.
The DfT said the new funding would create 1,500 jobs and inject around £1.1 billion into the local economy.
The East West Railway Company has also confirmed that the project will now be built in three ‘Connection Stages’ – Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes, Oxford to Bedford and finally Oxford to Cambridge. The EWRC recently invited tenders from rolling stock builders to supply about 14 ‘self-powered’ trains for the route, although it is hoped that EWR will be electrified in the longer term.
East West Railway Company chief executive Simon Blanchflower said: ‘We are delighted that the Government has made this significant investment decision for East West Rail and the Oxford Cambridge Arc. This means we can now get on with the construction work and connect communities who live on the East West Rail route.’
Cllr Sue Clark is chair of the East West Rail Consortium of local authorities. She added: ‘We welcome the Government’s continued commitment to delivering East West Rail. The announcement means that in just a few years’ time, we will see the first East West Rail services from Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes – a milestone worth celebrating.
‘We look forward to having confirmation that Milton Keynes-Aylesbury and Bletchley-Bedford will also be delivered as soon as possible. While each section brings its own benefits to the communities it serves, East West Rail’s full transformational potential will only be realised if it is delivered in full.
‘We will continue to press the case for the investment in these two sections by working with the East West Railway Company to ensure that their proposals meet the requirements of users and communities for the decades to come. And we will continue to press the Government for an early decision on the investment that will allow those sections to be delivered as soon as possible.’