East West Rail looks ahead to Bicester-Bedford and MK-Aylesbury
Network Rail opened the first round of consultation yesterday (7 September) for phase 2 of the Western section of East West Rail.
The scheme includes plans to upgrade and reconstruct existing and mothballed sections of track linking Bedford to Bicester and Milton Keynes to Princes Risborough to improve rail connections.
It aims to deliver new journeys between Bedford and Bicester, new services between Milton Keynes and London via Aylesbury, better regional links and increased capacity for freight trains.
The ‘Western Section Phase 2’ project is a part of East West Rail, whose overall goal is to establish a strategic railway linking East Anglia with central, southern and western England. It is funded by the Department for Transport with a contribution from the East West Rail Consortium.
RTM reported last month that operator Chiltern Railways is concerned about the “additional pressure on the timescales” for phase 2 created by the delay in the GRIP 3 milestones for the project from November 2015 to August 2016, which were nevertheless approved by the Office of Rail & Road (ORR).
To licence phase 2 of the scheme, Network Rail has to apply for a Transport and Works Act Order to the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin MP, who will consider feedback to this consultation when making a decision.
Residents and community stakeholders will be able to discuss the project with project team members, as well as comment on specific features along the route, during several public events running from 21 to 30 September. Network Rail also wants to hear from landowners, lineside neighbours, passenger groups, commuters, and rail enthusiasts. The consultation runs until 16 October.
Network Rail will have to buy land on which to construct and operate the line, reconstruct disused or under-used sections of track and signalling, and upgrade other sections of the line.
New track and upgraded infrastructure is needed between Bicester and Claydon Junction, which is currently only used by freight trains, and doing preliminary work to prepare for electrification of the line between Bicester and Bletchley.
Other phase 2 works include upgrading track between Princes Risborough and Claydon Junction and upgrading currently mothballed track to Bletchley.
The project will also encompass various station works at Bletchley, Ridgmont, Monks Risborough, Aylesbury Vale Parkway, Little Kimble, Bedford Midland and Woburn Sands.
In July, an assessment by consultancy and independent engineering firm Arup revealed that the Western section of the project could boost the regional economy by £72.7m per year.
It also identified that the East West Rail line will substantially improve rail connections for business and leisure travel by March 2019.
The railway is expected to become an integral part of the national ‘Electric Spine’ from Southampton on the south coast to the Midlands and to intermodal hubs in north-east England as result of Oxford-Bedford electrification.
Feedback from this consultation will be reviewed and analysed later this year, with a second round of consultation early next year. The final scheme documents will be developed in spring 2016. All documents will be submitted for ministerial approval by the second quarter of next year.
To view the interactive map of the planned works – broken down into stations, overbridges, underbridges, crossings, passing loops and viaducts – as well as to submit feedback, access the Network Rail consultation page.
Phase 1 of the Western section of East West Rail is already well underway, with track laying completed between Oxford Parkway and the Chiltern Main Line, with upgrades between Oxford and Oxford Parkway due by spring 2016. In RTM’s August/September 2015 edition, out now, there is an interview with Andy Milne, senior programme manager at Network Rail, about the latest works on East West Rail.
These have included the construction of two new stations: Oxford Parkway at the site of Water Eaton Park & Ride, and Bicester Village station close to the previous Bicester Town site. Islip station has also been rebuilt.
The project partners have also built a chord three-quarters of a mile long through a field in Bicester, to join the Bicester to Oxford line to the Chiltern Main Line and allow new services direct to London Marylebone. This offers an alternative route to London, avoiding the congested Great Western Main Line via Reading.
(Top image: Distorted track below Salden Bridge on the mothballed line between Claydon Junction and Bletchley, c. Roger Marks)