Over thirty years of Railfuture campaigning has culminated in success with the award of £794m by the government to construct and reopen East West Rail between Oxford and Bletchley, and to rapidly progress the plan to reopen the Ashington Blyth and Tyne line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington. Clearance work on the mothballed section west of Swanbourne. Image by East West Rail/Phil Marsh.
A £794 million investment package to reopen these two important rail routes was announced on 23 January 2021 by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
East West Rail plans to reopen the route between Oxford and Cambridge closed in 1968. The first phase between Oxford and Bicester was reopened on 12 December 2016; this funding includes £760m for the delivery of the next phase to reinstate the route between Bicester and Bletchley. This phase 2 of the project will include the construction of a new station at Winslow, as well as enhancements to existing stations along the route, including Bletchley. By 2025, 2 trains per hour will run between Oxford and Milton Keynes via Bletchley.
Richard Stow, chair of Railfuture Thames Valley branch, said: “We are delighted that the government has shown such a big commitment to the future of rail transport and its ability to connect communities and grow the economy in a sustainable way, especially in the current circumstances”.
The investment package also includes £34 million for the next phase of work to reopen the Northumberland line - the new name for the Ashington Blyth & Tyne freight line, which closed to passengers in 1964. between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington. Railfuture and the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) have been campaigning for the re-introduction of passenger rail services on the line since March 2005.
This will allow for detailed design and land acquisition along with minor construction which can proceed in advance of the necessary planning permissions, and means Northumberland County Council remains on track with the timeline of seeing passenger trains in service between Newcastle and Ashington by 2024.
Whilst a final funding package will need to be released by central government after the various planning consents have been obtained and the exact detail of the scheme and costs are known, today’s news, releasing approximately just over 20% of the total estimated re-opening cost, is an overwhelmingly positive step forward, and indicates clear intention from central government to deliver the Northumberland line scheme in full.
SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett, reacting to today’s news, said: “It is has been a long campaign with many highs and lows during the 15 years thus far. We remember that when we first started, no-one would listen to us and everyone said it was impossible, or had been tried before. But, bit by bit, through diligent campaigning and lobbying, and particularly our special events such as our special charter train round the line in 2008, and schools’ DVD competition in 2014, we have won support not just from the key stakeholders such as Northumberland County Council, but, we believe, from the community as a whole”.
The latest round of the Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund will run until 5 March 2021 with successful bids due to be announced later this summer. Our campaign to reopen missing links and so reconnect one million people to jobs, education and a social life by rail goes on.
Ox-Cam campaign for East West Rail between Oxford and Cambridge
Ashington Blyth and Tyne campaign
SENRUG press release
East West Rail