East West Rail ‘no longer third most important project in country’

Council leaders along the proposed East West Rail route are seeking a meeting with Sir Peter Hendy to discuss concerns that the project may be postponed beyond 2024.

The much-delayed project was originally due to open in 2017, then 2019, before being pushed back until the end of CP6.

There were signs of progress at the end of March when Network Rail announced its preferred route for the central section, through the Bedford-Sandy-Cambridge corridor.

However, Cllr Rodney Rose, deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council and chair of the East West Rail Consortium, which represents the councils involved, told RTM: “It’s already going up to 2024 and that might slip a bit now. I’m getting very concerned about it. It’s a bit of a blow to the local authorities that have put money in.”

The East West Rail link has been described as the third most important rail project in the country, after HS2 and Crossrail.

When asked if it was still being treated as such, Cllr Rose answered bluntly: “No.”

Cllr Rose said the issue will be discussed with Network Rail at the next meeting of the East West Rail Joint Delivery Board the week after next, and that he is seeking an additional meeting with Sir Peter Hendy, the chair of Network Rail, to discuss it.

He said he had previously asked Sir Peter about the delays when they met at the opening of Oxford Parkway station, pointing out that local authorities risk losing money they’ve invested in the project.

Cllr Rose said Hendy had promised to address the issue at the time but that it seemed “to have slipped again”.

He added that he thought the main causes of the delays were a “knock-on effect” from delays in electrification, which is intended to be introduced along key routes of the project such as Oxford-Paddington.

He said that the project could be at risk because of financial uncertainty following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. However, he said such concerns make the project more important in order to generate growth, not less.

Phase 1 of the project between Bicester and Oxford is due to be completed in December 2016, once the line between Oxford and Oxford Parkway station is re-opened.

However, funding for Phase 2 – between Bicester to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Princes Risborough – must be sought and granted approval by the DfT if it is to be complete in CP6.

Network Rail’s senior sponsor for the project Tony Walker told the Oxford Mail that pooling the funding would be a “challenge” in the current economic climate, “but it would be good to complete in CP6”.

A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “We’re continuing our work to develop and consult on our plans to upgrade the railway line between Bicester and Bedford and Milton Keynes and Princes Risborough. By the start of the five-year funding period from 2019, this will be among the best-planned schemes in our Railway Upgrade Plan.”

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David   26/08/2016 at 12:49

Oh fantastic. Worst-case austerity scenario. And Brexit was supposed to prop us up on our own two feet was it?

John Grant   26/08/2016 at 13:01

The road project (championed by Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, and passing close to Aspley Guise) seems to be getting priority; is this a re-run of the Marples/Beeching era? An upgrade of the A428 between Caxton Gibbet and the Black Cat is already scheduled; when that's built there will be dual carriageway from Cambridge to the M1, and rail from Bedford to Oxford -- not exactly what you'd call joined-up thinking.

Graham Nalty   26/08/2016 at 14:24

We have seen how well our athletes did in the Olympics due to targeted funding for all sports. Surely it is about time the railway sets its most urgent targets and funds them properly. Certainly this should be given priority over all London based investments including HS2 (which is known to benefit London more than other cities on the route) and Crossrail 2.This is the only rail route east - west between London and Melton Mowbray. Not only should Oxford to Cambridge be speeded up, but other east-west routes need to be added to the list.

Malcolm Dymott   26/08/2016 at 17:11

Bicester to Oxford upgrade happened because it was driven by Chiltern Railways. They had the willpower to find partners, find funds, take the lead, appoint project managers, and get things done. Where is the leadership for east-west? I think there are four county councils, a unified authority and Network Rail . . . none of whom actually run trains and all of whom have many other priorities. Possibly start by finding someone who knows how to run trains to take a lead . . . otherwise we might only get the section from Calvert Junction to Bletchley done - possibly by Chiltern Railways who seem keen to get beyond Aylesbury Vale Parkway to Bletchley and Milton Keynes.

Lutz   26/08/2016 at 18:50

Not unexpected, and probably more such delays to come. Simply; the numbers are not adding up, the problem will grow until some gets control.

Gb   26/08/2016 at 18:56

If HS2 were scrapped (as it should be), would this not release enough funding to complete the E-W route and several other worthy schemes?

David   26/08/2016 at 19:11

Gb, no that won't be the case. HS2 investment is coming from a totally different business case, money which won't be "released" otherwise. In any case, scrapping it will not happen.

Martin Borrett   26/08/2016 at 22:30

South curve at Manton would connect Peterborough and lines east to cross country route via Kettering, Bedford and Bletchley.

John Grant   27/08/2016 at 11:40

That looks do-able; they've done their favourite trick at South Luffenham of building on the trackbed but it looks as if there's an alternative route. And the levels would need to be changed at the Welland viaduct because currently it goes under the line to Corby.

Andrew Gwilt   27/08/2016 at 23:00

So Phase 2 could be planned with Phase 3 from Bedford to Cambridge is also to be planned with the preferred route passing through Sandy and a new bridge at Sandy to be built over the ECML with Sandy railway station having 2 new platforms being built for the East-West rail route to connect with the 2 current platforms where Great Northern trains stop at on the ECML (King's Cross-Peterborough Great Northern route) and Bedford St. John's which is on the East-West route (Bedford-Bletchley line) will be the station that will be having a link already going to Bedford Midland (Thameslink) station as London Midland trains from Bletchley terminates & starts at Bedford.

Peter Storey   28/08/2016 at 12:00

Malcolm made the very good point that there doesn't seem to be a lead promoter for the complete route, or if there is they are not doing a very good job. With the electrification of the Oxford - Paddington route and the existing electrified West Coast and East Coast routes, and future Midland electrification, it would make sense to use this new line an alternative diversionary electric route in the event of disruptions. HS2 is vital and must go ahead as it serves so many cities and people but so too should these infill routes which are also vital and affordable in these days of rock bottom interest rates. The huge unknown is Brexit which could hit our economy so badly over the next few years that all much needed major investment could be hit. Such an unnecessary act.

Richard Wills-Woodward   29/08/2016 at 16:00

People need to really stop bleating on about Brexit here. 1) It's nothing to do with it 2) Brexit is about democratic control over socialist state control so if you think the EU is so wonderful, go and ask Europeans without jobs and sky high taxes what the reality of life is there. Some of you may like dependemcy and despise democracy, but the majority do not and we have a foundation in this nation that makes us very dofferent to continental Europe - it's called Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. Every child should know this, sadly they don't and the result is a love for dictatorship and autocracy which is totally illogical. Our success is becasue of these foundations and not the EU. East West Rail has been delayed due to Network Rail incompetence and lack of manpower/resources.

Peter Jarvis   29/08/2016 at 19:20

Road works adjacent to the east side of Bletchley Station and reputedly in advance of the East-West line, are three-quarters done. Where does this leave us?

Huguenot   30/08/2016 at 13:33

Bad news indeed. Highways England is pressing on with the OxCam expressway -- the railway should get there first, otherwise users will get into the car habit and not take to rail when that eventrually does arrive. Building EWR Western Section Phase 2 (Bicester-Bletchley) is so easy (it's less than 19 miles and the trackbed is all there), why not get on with that? Electrification can wait. Perhaps Chiltern should lead on this too -- the trouble is that their franchise only goes up to 2021.

Tothehills   30/08/2016 at 14:06

Is this really the 3rd most important rail project in the country given: HS2, HS3, electrification of the MML, GWML electrification, Modernisation of the ECML? Seems to me a lot of money to spend on moving a small amount of the UK population from a whole bunch of moderate places. May be important to locals but nationally its irrelevant.

Transtraxman   02/09/2016 at 11:22

I do not see how this project is considered the third most important in the country. I would consider a longer list before this was even looked at. The government published in March 2015 a report listing 12 Tier One Priority lines, and this East-West line was not on the list. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-31753447 Most refer to different parts of the Transpennine system and are of paramount importance.To this list I would add the electrification of the Midland Main Line from London to Sheffield and Leeds, plus the Chiltern Line from London to Birmingham. All these are essential a very long way before the said East-West line is even looked at.

Kev Smith   02/09/2016 at 14:38

get the bletchley - oxford branch reopened first, its trackbed is there, get some steel laid down, some Track circuits and run it in slowly its single line for majority of it anyway, throw in couple of passing loops at the designated stations. there are plenty of spare diesel units than can operate over it, turbos, sprinters, etc..just give the tocs some sweetners to see what happens first the Oxford branch is a handy diversion link...i fail to see how NR & the DFT cant be accelerating the first phase of reopening, long term it will make break even, eventually start making money again...

Andrew Long   04/09/2016 at 14:12

EWR was intended to serve the HS2 infrastructure depot at Claydon. The section of line from Claydon LNE Junction to Bletchley is "disused" so is easier to work on & upgrade as presumably no "engineering possessions" are required. Shouldn't the "Chiltern model" be being used for Bicester - Claydon - Bletchley? Are Network Rail so short of skilled staff that their other schemes now receive greater priority? If the resource is not available internally, why is it not seeking external consultancy support to help deliver EWR in a timely manner?

Melvyn   04/09/2016 at 18:31

The main effect of the BREXIT vote has been the loss of one of the most pro rail chancellors we have ever had and perhaps we are now back to old days of roads before rail ? In addition funding for rail projects like South Wales electrification was due to come from eu funding and so now either this project will not be funded or money will have to come from elsewhere . And before anyone goes on about money we pay to the eu well the treasury won't necessarily allocate money not spent on say the eu for projects that the eu was down to fund . As fie east west rail well Buckinghamshire Council has spent large sums on opposing HS2 money that would have been better directed at East West rail which they support. As for Chiltern Rail well that is operated by German Statevrailway DB and we don't know yet whether EU state railways will be interested in our railways post BREXIT especially if we are no longer part of the single market ! In fact other rail projects like doubling the Felixstowe branch could have a higher priority if freight trains generate more revenue for railways .

Tim   12/09/2016 at 17:24

Melvyn, worth noting that the new chancellor was transport secretary not that long ago...the fact that he therefore presumably knows a little more than the average minister about rail investment could be seen as either a positive or a negative...!

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Sandy   12/12/2017 at 13:01

Welcome to the Northern Poorhouse! This goes to illustrate again that magic proposals to keep the Electorate happy don't often come to anything.

Burtorail   19/12/2017 at 17:35

If true, this is possibly because feeding such a service into Cambridge without four tracks north of Shepreth Branch Junction through to Cambridge will be unworkable. The new station at Addenbrooke's Hospital also demands these four tracks, which aside from station building cost, makes four-tracking more justifiable, but still very pricey. However, I'm utterly certain that this east-west project will be an enormous success commercially, even though it might interfere with the business case of several current London focused franchises. But I'm no expert, of course.

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