More backing for re-opening of Oxford-Cambridge ‘Varsity’ route
The East West Rail Consortium is making the case for the difficult ‘Central Section’ between Oxford and Cambridge, emphasising its “substantial” economic benefits.
The ‘Western Section’ between Oxford, Bedford and Milton Keynes is already approved and funded, but the Central Section has long been seen as more complicated. The former line between Bedford and Cambridge has been dismantled, the land sold, and parts of it are now covered by buildings. The link would therefore involve a new stretch of track.
(Archive map above by Dtcdthingy shows the original Varsity Line, with disused or freight-only sections in turquoise. Creative Commons.)
The latest Atkins study, an in-depth 129-page analysis, examines forecast population growth, employment levels, economic activity and planned growth, as well as a review of existing and forecast transport requirements, and finds “significant economic growth potential that could be unlocked through new rail services”.
Network Rail is undertaking feasibility work to identify a preferred route, with input from the East West Rail Consortium and Department for Transport. If a route with a convincing business can be found by 2016, the ‘Central Section’ could be a candidate for construction during Control Period 6 (2019-24).
Bob Menzies, service director for strategy and development at Cambridgeshire County Council and chair of the East West Rail ‘Central Section’ steering group, said: “Now that the Western Section between Oxford, Bedford and Milton Keynes is going ahead, we are working to develop the business case for the Central Section to complete the missing link. To do this, we need to identify a route that will deliver the greatest benefits to support the case for investment.”
That steering group comprises officials from the county councils of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, the borough councils of Ipswich, Bedford, Central Bedfordshire and Luton, as well as Network Rail and the Department for Transport.
Graham Botham, principal strategic planner at Network Rail, added: “We welcome the exciting opportunity to unlock the economic growth of the region through improving rail services and the infrastructure that may be required to support these. We look forward to working with the Consortium to explore the role that rail services can play in facilitating growth of the economy.”
Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge and vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for East West Rail said: “There’s no doubt that we need this railway – linking Norwich and Ipswich through Cambridge to Oxford and Reading has huge benefits; that’s why I’ve pressed for it for years. But the route is hard to find, and people have quite rightly been asking which route would be taken, how much it will cost and when it will finally happen - this study helps us to answer those concerns. I am delighted that Network Rail will now take forward the next phase of route design and produce a business case.”
Peter Wakefield, who chairs Railfuture's East Anglia Branch, said: "What some once regarded as a 'pipe dream' in 1995 when Railfuture wrote the original paper that led to local authorities across the region setting up of the East West Rail Consortium, will soon be a vital economic artery serving every part of the region. The report shows that the new railway will provide unheard-of connectivity improvements across the region with, for example, Cambridge to Oxford being connected by frequent trains in just 60 minutes, and Cambridge to Bedford in just 28 minutes. Railfuture now looks to Network Rail to consult quickly with the Consortium to establish the business case and to plan the most beneficial route from Cambridge to Bedford to enable the route to be approved by the transport planning laws and open fully to Oxford by 2022 or earlier.
"After 20 years of unwavering campaigning for the project and support for the amazing efforts of the Consortium of local authorities, it is also a vindication of the democratic process...as well as vindication for our members' patience! They have always understood the value of this railway to the economic and social well-being of our region and to the UK as a whole. They have never given up."
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