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Councils welcome Grayling promise of continued support for East West Rail

The East West Rail Consortium has welcomed promises from transport secretary Chris Grayling this week that the government will continue to support the project.

Speaking at the CCN Annual Conference, Grayling said that while devolution was “part of the solution” in some cases, he was “no fan of devolution for devolution’s sake”.

He added that in certain instances the government should “stump up the cash” for major transport projects, including East West Rail.

Cllr Rodney Rose, deputy leader of Oxfordshire county council and chair of the Joint Delivery Board for East West Rail Western Section, said: “There is overwhelming support from the public, the business community and investors. We need to crack on and get it built so we can realise the opportunities it presents to boost the economy, create new jobs, support housing growth and improve the quality of life of people in the region.

“Following a period of uncertainty over delays due to pressure on the national rail budget, we're optimistic that government will now follow through on its commitment by making funds available for earliest possible completion.”

He added that the East West Rail Consortium would work closely with the DfT and Network Rail, and expected a clear delivery programme by January 2017.

The East West Rail project is a planned rail route linking Norwich and Cambridge with Oxford via Milton Keynes. It was originally due to be completed in 2017, then 2019, before being pushed back to CP6 following the Hendy Review.

In August, Cllr Rose told RTM that the project was “no longer the third most important project in the country”. Last year, Chiltern Railways started running services from the new Oxford Parkway station to London Marylebone via Bicester Village.

The next step in the project is the Western Section Phase 2, which involves reconstructing and upgrading disused and underused sections of railway between Bicester and Bedford, and upgrading freight-only lines for passenger services between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury. The consortium is contributing £45m to the project.

The route between Oxford and Bedford was originally due to be electrified, but this has been cancelled as part of the delays, meaning diesel trains will run instead.

Cllr Rose added that East West Rail was “relatively low cost” compared to projects such as HS2 and Crossrail.

The consortium estimates that it will make £6 for every £1 spent, recoup its costs within five years and generate an additional £200m a year for the economy.

Grayling also said that England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance, which has formed a strategic transport forum as a precursor to a strategic transport authority for the region, was on his agenda because of East West Rail.

Cllr Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and chair of the Alliance, said East West Rail was “the top infrastructure priority” for the Alliance and six local enterprise partnerships.

He added that he was “positive and confident” that there would be “rapid progress” on the project.

In August, Paul Maynard, the rail minister, wrote to Cllr Rose saying that despite the project’s deferral, the DfT was “working hard to explore ways which could see its delivery brought forward”.

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Barry Buttigieg   12/11/2016 at 08:54

it is a great shame that east-west will be diesel for many years and not electric. another broken promise. still to have the trains back will be great.

Huguenot   12/11/2016 at 14:55

I agree that deferral of electrification is unfortunate but let's get on with getting a diesel service up and running. It has taken too long to get even this far, bearing in mind that the Bicester-Bletchley section is less than 20 miles and the formation is already there, unsevered by development, and that both ends are already signalled. It really isn't a big job. After that, there is the big question of the route for the Central Section. Will it bypass Bedford (loss of potential passenger business and interchange opportunities)? Or will EWR have to reverse there (lack of platform capacity plus extended Oxford-Cambridge journey times)?

Tothehills   14/11/2016 at 09:13

The rates of return seem rather a high end estimate, or the cost of doing are extreme low. Just how many people, commercially, really want to travel this route. I've cycled this route and is seems very rural home counties to me, I just do not see a "mass" flow from Bletchley to Bedford that cannot easily be handle by cars. I'll give you the town centres are congested but vehicle infrastructure between them seemed nowhere near stretched. I really can't help thinking there are better rail infrastructure projects to spend our money on.

Huguenot   14/11/2016 at 10:56

Oh, thanks for your encouragement, Tothehills. Bletchley to Bedford already has an hourly train service. That is not what EWR is all about. It is to connect the important cities and towns of Oxford, Bicester, Milton Keynes, Bedford (and eventually Cambridge) and to provide interconnectivity with the N-S routes at these points, rather than to serve rural stations en route (in fact there will be only one, at Winslow). Through services to/from Reading will provide further connections to South Wales, the West Country and even Heathrow without having to travel via Central London. Although the cost is higher than it should be for such a simple project, the benefits are considerable.

Noam Bleicher   15/11/2016 at 10:54

What Huguenot said. As well as serving local flows like Oxford to MK, the new line will provide much better connectivity for inter-city journeys from Bristol, Swindon and Oxford to destinations up the WCML and MML. Current journeys via London or Birmingham are long and not that convenient. An eventual extension to the ECML and Cambridge will add ECML destinations to this list.

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