A vital rail link between Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford has reached a “milestone moment” with enabling works of a key section nearing completion on a connection closed in the 1960s.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling visited Bicester today to see first-hand how spades in the ground are laying the foundations for construction on the East West Rail route. Meeting with Network Rail staff on the western section of the route, the minister saw how preparations are accelerating towards a much-needed rail link for passengers in the region.
The minister revealed he was looking at reopening rail services axed in the sixties back in 2017. Grayling said routes axed by Dr Richard Beeching more than 50 years could be brought back to ease pressure. Beeching announced the closure of 4,000 miles of railway lines and 2,000 stations to save money at a time when the country was seeing rapid growth in car ownership and the opening of the first motorways.
East West Rail is being built progressively in three phases. With phase 1 between Oxford and Bicester already complete, phase 2 will see major track and signalling upgrades extending services from Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury.
Commenting on the progress, Grayling said East West Rail will transform journeys and provide passengers and businesses with a transport system that unlocks economic opportunity and drives forward new housing and jobs.
“As a hub for technical and scientific innovation, home to world-class universities and a skilled workforce that drives growth, the success of England’s economic heartland is imperative to the UK’s prosperity and productivity,” he said. “Rapid progress on the project means we will see construction underway on direct, fast and reliable services from next year, delivering significantly better connections for passengers.”
The East West rail route is being divided into three sections:
- The western section phase 1 (Oxford to Bicester) and phase 2 (Bicester to Milton Keynes/Bedford and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes)
- The central section (Bedford to Cambridge via Sandy)
- The eastern section (Cambridge to Norwich and Ipswich) - existing railway which could link into East West Rail
Rob Brighouse, chair of the East West Railway Company, added: “East West Railway Company is working hard with Network Rail to open this line as soon as possible. We’re delighted to have the work underway. When open this line will boost economic growth, and make it easier and quicker for people who live here to travel in the local area.”
The National Infrastructure Commission has been a long-term supporter for development of the route and its “Partnering for Prosperity” report published last year stated how the connection could deliver one million homes across the arc by 2050 and create vibrant communities.
A spokesman for the commission said: “The near-completion of enabling works means real progress can be made in delivering the vital transport links between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Bedford, and can continue on to Cambridge. “And as the Growth Arc continues to attract the brightest and best in some of the most high-tech industries, this will benefit both the area and the country as a whole.”
The project is said to be a vital part of the government’s plans to provide the region with a road and rail network fit for the future, improving links to jobs, education, leisure and health services.