At a regional rail conference, delegates have been told that trains are unlikely to be running between Ipswich and Oxford until 2031.
The government has announced £110m of funding for an east-west rail link between Oxford and Cambridge, including a link between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury.
In the Autumn Statement, the chancellor said £100m would be spent to “accelerate” the building of Western Section, which includes the Bedford – Oxford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury lines.
A further £10m has been allocated to continue development work to identify a preferred route for the line to extend east of Bedford, via Sandy, to Cambridge.
Mr Hammond said he was backing the National Infrastructure Commission’s interim recommendations on the Oxford-Cambridge growth corridor published last week, stating that:
“This project can be more than just a transport link. It can become a transformational tech-corridor, drawing on the world-class research strengths of our two best-known universities.”
The news was welcomed by local authority leaders in the East West Rail Consortium who developed the original business case for the Western Section of East West Rail that gained Government backing in 2011, and have laid the foundation for developing the case for the Central Section.
The Consortium have also committed to make a contributing of £45+ million towards the cost of the Western Section. They are pressing for accelerated delivery, since the planned completion date was moved from March 2019, to some time in the five-year spending period from 2019 to 2024.
Cllr Rodney Rose of Oxfordshire County Council and Chairman of the East West Rail Joint Delivery Board for the Western Section commented:
“Work must begin as soon as possible on the next stage of a railway link between Oxford and Cambridge. Trains will start operating between Oxford and Bicester to Marylebone next month, and there should be no further delay on the next stage from Bicester to Bedford, and from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury.
“It has now been put into control period six which goes from 2019 to 2024. I want spades in the ground and rails being laid no later than 2019, and trains running as close to the original planned date as possible. The benefits the railway will bring to people, communities and businesses in our region and beyond should not be underestimated. We will continue to work closely with Network Rail and the Department for Transport to make this happen.”
Mr Rose added that developers would not build much-needed housing until they could see the railway starting to take shape.
Cllr Ian Bates of Cambridgeshire County Council, and Chairman of the Consortium’s Central Section Board also welcomed the investment, whilst stressing the urgency of the project.
“I am delighted that Government is making funds available for the Cambridge to Bedford section of East West Rail. This means work can continue apace to identify the best route that will support our region’s economic and housing growth. This, and the promise of the Cambridge Oxford Expressway, will connect people and businesses creating an even more attractive environment for businesses to flourish. Although it is mooted that the railway could be delivered by the early 2030s, our region needs it sooner. Our focus now is getting the right route and developing the case for investment to make this a reality.”
Sir John Armitt, Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission said:
On releasing the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford interim report with recommendations to Government, Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt said:
“To succeed in the global economy, the UK must build on its strengths. The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be Britain’s Silicon Valley – a globally recognised centre for science, technology and innovation. But its future success is not guaranteed.
“East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expresswa can be a catalyst to bring the region together to deliver the housing and connectivity it will need to compete with the best in the world.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity – we must grab it with both hands.
Chris Grayling has confirmed government support for East West Rail during a speech, promising a commitment for the funding and a revised timetable for delivery by January 2017.
Councillors have rejected Network Rail’s request to withdraw the use of silent track on the Oxford to Oxford Parkway rail link. Residents have accused Network Rail of reneging on their promises, whilst Network Rail have advised that the use of silent track is not cost effective. Network RIl have advised that this won’t affect the planned opening date of 12th December because silent track can be retrofitted.
Buckinghamshire County Council has paid £900k buying 2.5 acres of land for Winslow railway station.
A deputy council leader has raised concerns about potential slippage with regards to the opening date for the East West Rail central section.
Network Rail is working with ecologists to carry out an extensive study into what impact the new railway upgrade between Oxford and Bedford will have on the local environment, paying particular attention to a rare species of bat known to roost in the local area.
Experts from Network Rail’s environmental team have been out at dusk and dawn, trapping and tagging bats at key areas along the project route. The aim is to understand whether or not some very rare Bechstein’s bat, known to roost in the Sheephouse wood/Bernwood Estate area near Aylesbury are also present in other areas of the scheme.
The project team has already carried out extensive studies including watching surveys at potential roosts and the use of automatic ‘listening’ bat detectors.
Lucie Anderton, senior environment manager for Network Rail said: “Simply from recording their calls, we already have a good understanding of the numbers and types of bats that use the existing rail corridor and surrounding habitat, however some species can only be identified by trapping them
“We are very interested to find out if any of the rare Bechstein’s bats are present outside the Sheephouse/Bernwood area. These bats are associated particularly with ancient woodland habitats and so the trapping surveys are very focused.”
East West Rail aims to improve the east-west connectivity through improved public transport in order to support economic growth, prosperity and employment in the area and to introduce faster and more reliable train services between Oxford, Cambridge and East Anglia.
So far, Noctule, Natterers, Daubenton’s and Common Pipistrelle bats have been tagged and surveys are now being paused due to the female bats being heavily pregnant or having pups in their maternity roost. The surveys will continue later in the summer.
The surveys will help the East West Rail engineering team understand how the project might affect bats and also help design mitigation to ensure their population in the area continues to thrive.
Source: Network Rail
The government is considering the creation of a new rail franchise for operating train services on the new East West railway line.
The corridor for the East West Rail link has been announced with the rail route expected to run between Bedford and Cambridge via Sandy.
Source: Network Rail
George Osborne has written to the National Infrastructure Commission chaired by Lord Adonis to ask him to look into connectivity on the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge corridor. The letter asked for the review to look into the priority infrastructure improvements and assess the economic case for the improvements that deliver the most economic growth.