The East-West Rail Consortium has announced a preferred route for a new line to be built between Cambridge and Bedford, enabling the completion of the rebuilding of the Varsity Line to Oxford which was closed following the publication of the Beeching Report in the mid-1960s.
Linking existing stations in Bedford and Cambridge with communities in Cambourne and the area north of Sandy, south of St. Neots, this route was the favourite among people who responded to the consultation on route options. It also provides the most benefits for every £ of taxpayers’ money spent.
Eventually the route is expected to incorporate the lines from Cambridge to Ipswich and Norwich, allowing passengers to complete new cross-country journeys without having to go through London.
The Consortium was set up in 1995 after the plans were first drawn up in the early 1980s and has already reopened the Oxford to Bicester section and is currently upgrading the route from Bicester to Bedford via Bletchley. That is due to open in 2023. The new line should be completed by 2030.
Consortium chair Mark Shaw said: "The section between Bedford and Cambridge has always been the most challenging part of planning East West Rail, given that - unlike the section west of Bedford - it requires a completely new route.
|The eastern section of the route was lost, the central section from Bicester to Bedford via Bletchley which was mothballed is set to be upgraded. The section between Oxford and Bicester has already been restored and opened.|
"This announcement ensures the momentum established by the East West Railway Company is maintained and we will continue to work closely with them as they look to secure detailed planning consent and get trains on tracks at the earliest opportunity."
CBI Regional Director for the East of England Richard Tunnicliffe said: "Today's news about a recommended route for the East-West rail route is a landmark step in the project. The CBI welcomes the government's commitment to the East West Rail route between Oxford and Cambridge. This project will help level up the whole East of England linking us up from Reading to Norwich.
"Completing this work is utterly essential to ensure we level up the regions, and businesses in the OxCam Arc welcome the opportunities this line will provide, with access to new skills, widening market access and building on the innovation that makes this region a world leader.
"There is a lot of work left to go to today is a real day for celebration as this vital piece of infrastructure will help unleash the full economic potential of the region."
The preferred route, route E from the consultation would link Bedford Midland, a new station between Sandy and St Neots, a new station at Cambourne and Cambridge station. The route would provide improved connectivity between towns and cities across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, improving passenger journey times and supporting the Oxford-Cambridge Arc to fulfil its economic potential as a world-class strategic innovation Arc.
The Bedford to Cambridge section of East West Rail has been designated a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.
The preferred route will now be the focus for further development. This further development work will include environmental and engineering studies to identify potential route alignments on which the railway could run, within the preferred route option and will lead to the government making a final decision on whether to take this project forward, and to make an application for a developed consent order. In advance of submitting the application for development consent order, we will confirm that there are no material changes that might have affected our preferred route choice.
Update 4th Feb 2020
In the meantime the Secretary of State for Transport approved Network Rail’s Transport and Works Act Order application, granting permission for work to begin on the next phase of East West Rail.
Once complete, phase 2 of East West Rail would connect communities and businesses between Oxford and Bedford, and Milton Keynes and Aylesbury, with:
Two trains per hour each way between Oxford and Milton Keynes
One train per hour each way between Oxford and Bedford
One train per hour each way between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury
The new railway will also connect the Great Western main line, Chiltern main line, West Coast main line and Midland main line - providing passengers with much-improved cross-country rail links from East to West.
With phase 1 between Oxford and Bicester already complete, phase 2 involves track and signalling upgrades between Bicester, Bedford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, including reinstating a disused section of railway between Bletchley and Claydon Junction, north of Aylesbury Vale Parkway.