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Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Line reopening proposals gather steam

The Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge could be reopened after nearly 50 years, as the government looks to extend the East West Rail link, the western section of which is already funded and approved.

The line was closed due to a lack of use as the rolling stock used at the time ran too slowly. But the government is starting work on the proposal, which would see the construction of a new railway line linking Bedford and Cambridge, and a new interchange station.

DfT spokesman Jon Rhodes told the Oxford Mail: “The department is working closely with local authorities to identify a potential route for the Bedford to Cambridge railway line, which would allow trains to run direct between Oxford and Cambridge and potentially to other destinations further east.

“This work should be completed by the spring after which we will consider how it could be financed.”

The ‘western section’ of East West Rail already has approval and funding. It will re-introduce passenger and freight services between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury (see map below). It involves upgrading and reconstructing sections of existing and mothballed rail track, and is to be delivered by Network Rail. Surveying work has already begun.

The difficult ‘central section’ of East West Rail is Bedford-Cambridge, including the link between Bedford and Sandy, where some land has already been redeveloped since the line closed in the 1960s. Many bridges have been removed or are in a poor state, and the Bedford bypass severs the line.

The ‘eastern section’ of East West Rail covers freight and passenger services between Cambridge and East Anglia.

Caryl Jones, spokeswoman for the East West Rail Consortium, said: “By connecting centres of economic activity and growth, East West Rail will make the region more attractive as a place to do business, for employers and employees and for inward investment.

“It is expected to boost the regional GDP by some £38m per annum and create 12,000 new jobs.”

Oxford - use at bottom

The proposed new passenger services on the western section of East West Rail are reproduced below:

Reading to Bedford via Oxford

Complementing the new Chiltern Railways Oxford to London Marylebone service via Bicester (due 2016), an hourly service is proposed, calling at Didcot Parkway, Oxford, Oxford Parkway, Bicester Town, a new station at Winslow, Bletchley, and onward to Bedford Midland via Woburn Sands and Ridgmont.

Bletchley to Bedford

The existing hourly service stopping at all stations between Bletchley and Bedford will continue to operate, complementing the faster service described above.

Reading to Milton Keynes via Oxford

Taking the same route as the Bedford service to Bletchley, and then onward to Milton Keynes Central, where new Platform 2a has already been constructed in anticipation of East West Rail train services. This is also envisaged to be an hourly service that effectively provides an orbital link between the Great Western Main Line at Reading across to the West Coast Main Line at Milton Keynes.

Together with the Reading to Bedford service, this will provide a half-hourly service between Reading, Didcot Parkway, Oxford, Bicester Town and Bletchley.

Milton Keynes to London Marylebone via Aylesbury and High Wycombe

Services are expected to run hourly calling at Bletchley, the new station at Winslow, Aylesbury Vale Parkway, Aylesbury, Princes Risborough, High Wycombe and onward to London Marylebone.

Overall journey time is expected to be between 88-91 minutes. The particular significance of this route is that it provides Buckinghamshire residents with a train service to Milton Keynes, the fastest growing city in England with its many employment, shopping and leisure opportunities as well as access to the West Coast Main Line services at Milton Keynes Central and making Aylesbury in particular more accessible by public transport.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Nonsuchmike   13/12/2013 at 15:00

The route is fairly straight forward until it approaches Sandy. Here, instead of bending around and entering Sandy from the north and then leaving from the south via Potton to Gamlingay, I would go slightly north of the old route, directly cross the main line and proceed to Gamlingay directly, passing the village to the north and then approximately picking up the old route to the north of the Mullard telescope, crossing the river and diving under the existing Botanical establishment/car park/road/houses to pick up the old line into Cambridge. Cheaper, and to the point more direct.

Pedr Jarvis   13/12/2013 at 16:04

The alternative is to turn right at Bedford St Johns, run south-east along the old Midland route almost to Hitchin, then cross the ECML on the flyover and run down onto the Royston - Cambridge line. For goods, the route is direct - for passengers, a trip into Bedford Midland and a reversal would be needed. Less new construction; should be cheaper.

Richard   18/12/2013 at 10:11

Close Kempston Hardwick when Wixams opens, make a station at Kempston near the retail park. Use the London Brick company land for a container depot (proposed for St Albans) and use Forders sidings loop as a stabling locomotive point. I would triangulate the track at Wooton Broadmead heading towards Wilstead and join the old Hitchin line after Cardington. Go around Shefford and join the ECML at Hitchin from the south. This will join up with the Royston/Cambridge line. Or re open St Johns at its original location and take the Sandy route as near to the Hitchin route and do the same thing. I would not have a reversal into Bedford Midland. I would use the land at the end of Prebend Street as a car park (its tree's right now). That would pave an entrance through the current St Johns to the older site where the new trains will continue through Bedford.

Nonsuchmike   22/12/2013 at 17:25

Local knowledge is fantastic for local detail, but frequently the wood cannot be seen for the trees, or in this case the car park. Move the "new" St johns station up a little and call it Bedford, County Hall, and re run the "old route" to a new St Johns/Bedford, London Road station on the way to the Supermarkets. Bend the track around the sewage works to pick up the old line near Cardington. The Wilstead option cuts out central Bedford completely; my second option (as immediately above) still means you have to negotiate through/around Shefford and the old air base AND then the new Hitchin chord is going away from you in the opposite direction; entering from the south is not really an option, n'est-ce pas? Still reckon my first option is better and cheaper and ticks more passenger approval, ease of implementation and cost boxes than others suggested so far. Would agree to re-siting of Kempston Hardwick station to the SW of Bedford and re-triangulation where it was before. Then the locals could have decent east/west and north/south access, and those blocked roads in Bedford might be alleviated.

Francis Pearce   06/10/2014 at 08:14

I remember travelling on the last train from Bletchley to Cambridge. It is good to see this particular wheel being re-invented

Richard   07/12/2014 at 13:48

I'm not of the opinion that Bedford Midland can be on the route anymore. I would now go from Oxford, Bletchley, Northampton, Olney, Bedford, Stewartby... New track connecting to Hitchin from Stewartby, Hitchin, Royston, Cambridge and Eastwards. This way Bedford Midland can be included on the route, it adds MKC and Wolverton into the mix, potential new station at Olney/Brackmills and you don't need new track laid in Bedford or worry about roads/congestion/crossings. The Northampton line avoids built up areas and the track bed is still not developed on. Its a simple case of 123 and should be looked at with more consideration of what it delivers, rather than what it takes away.

Derek Cox   19/12/2017 at 12:18

Whilst the Oxbridge link is very welcome. The plan seems to be centred in the east, link to Reading etc. No mention has been made of the Greater potential to continue west to include Swindon, Bath and Bristol and connections on into South Wales and the South West? The Line exist linking Oxford to the main line west near Didcot. Then going east to Norwich, Ipswich and Felixstowe. Linking all of these important Towns and Cities gives economic opportunities not available without it.

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