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News: East West Rail advances - March 2021
Published on 31/03/2021, last revised on 08/04/2021, written by Roger Smith
In a boost to East West Rail, the DfT announced on 18 March 2021 that it had abandoned the Oxford–Cambridge Expressway in favour of more targeted road interventions. Subsequently, on 31 March 2021, the EWR Company launched a wide-ranging second non-statutory consultation.
The consultation had six key areas of focus:
- Improving Oxford Station and its supporting infrastructure, Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village stations
- Options for avoiding lengthy delays at the London Road level crossing in Bicester
- Ensuring that communities around Bletchley and the Marston Vale Line get the most benefit from EWR
- Options for new Bedford stations to support regeneration in the town centre, as well as at Bedford St Johns and their supporting infrastructure
- Opportunities to improve the experience for customers, such as better facilities both at stations and on board the train
- Five route alignment options for the Central section between Bedford and Cambridge, with an emerging preference for alignments via Cambourne North (see map below)
Full details can be viewed at www.eastwestrail.co.uk.
The closing date for the consultation was 9 June 2021.
News: East West Rail funding confirmed - January 2021
Published on 26/01/2021, last revised on 09/02/2021, written by Jerry Alderson and Roger Smith
The massive financial impact to the UK's economy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused alarm to many wanting to see progress on the reopening of East West Rail. Would it be descoped, deferred, or even cancelled, despite contractors on-site for the reopening of the 'Western Section' between Bicester and Bletchley?
Funding was first announced by the government in 2012, and Network Rail had obtained its Transport and Works Order in January 2020, so all work could go ahead. The DfT announced on 25 January 2021 that the Treasury had confirmed £760m for the East West Rail 'Western Section' but only the infrastructure to support services between Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes (not upgrading the route to Bedford, nor the link to Aylesbury) as the rest will be "phased". Moreover, the start of services has been pushed back by a year to 2025.
The government made a big fuss of the funding (announced together with £34m for the Northumberland line) but is the announcement new money?
Apparently so, as the Treasury has only just signed it off, although work to reinstate the Western Section is well in hand, especially the flyover next at Bletchley station, so some funding had to be provided regardless. However, slipping the target date and phasing allows the government to spend money more slowly, and the line will not be electrified, although this may happen eventually. In fact, because of the pandemic the Treasury is only providing money one year at a time, rather than for multiple years
Meanwhile, the EWR Consortium of local authorities "will continue to press the Government for an early decision on the investment that will allow the Bletchley - Bedford and Milton Keynes - Aylesbury sections to be delivered as soon as possible." However, the key point is that, despite the fall in passenger numbers, the Government is continuing to invest in rail whereas, other than the Black Cat (A421/A1) to Caxton Gibbet (A428) scheme, the Ox-Cam Expressway is on hold.
News: Consultant appointed to develop the East West Rail Eastern Section - July 2020
Published on 27/07/2020, written by Jerry Alderson
On 27 July 2020 the East West Rail Consortium announced that it has commissioned consultants Steer to develop a business case for the Eastern Section (Cambridge to Ipswich/Norwich) of the East West Rail mainline. The results will be used to demonstrate to the Department for Transport the economic benefit of improving the frequency of passenger rail services on the Eastern Section, which currently has hourly trains, and providing a new direct passenger rail link from Suffolk/Norfolk to Oxford.
News: East West Rail Central Section route 'not joined up' - February 2020
Published on 03/02/2020, written by John Henderson
East West Railway's "Preferred Route" report published in January 2020 explained that one of the reasons the route (via a route south of St Neots and close to Cambourne - see image below) was chosen is the potential for alignment with the new A428 road for both environmental and cost reasons. That advantage was emphasised by people and organisations who responded to the consultation. The EWR report also refers to the National Infrastructure Commission's requirement for a 'multi-modal corridor...combining EWR and the proposed new A428 dual carriageway'.
Unfortunately no one seems to have told Highways England about EWR's preferred route. The design of the new A428 from Cambourne to Roxton near St Neots currently has no allowance for the future railway. The second stage of consultation on the new route presented a huge amount of detail on environmental advantages but there is was mention in the documents of co-location with EWR, which would be the largest environmental (and overall) cost saving of all.
The A428 consultation documents are available here: https://highwaysengland.citizenspace.com/cip/a428-black-cat-to-caxton-gibbet-supp-con-2020/.
The closing date for comments was set at midnight on 28 July 2020. As this is the second consultation, Highways England were unlikely to accept comments about making major changes such as allowing for the railway. Other players that could have made a difference are MPs, the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), and the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).
News: Network Rail's plans for Bicester to Bedford approved - Construction under way! - January 2020
Published on 29/01/2020, written by Jerry Alderson and John Henderson
On 29 January 2020 the government officially approved Network Rail's (NR) plans for the Bicester to Bedford section of EWR. This is the long-awaited result of the public inquiry and subsequent Inspector's Report that started almost a year earlier. As a result construction works are progressing at a pace, with the intended opening date in 2024 (note: subsequently announced in January 2021 that it would be 2025).
During the 12 months since its application, NR have been making what progress they can without a TWAO. But now they can complete the detailed engineering and hire construction companies.
The major work performed so far, and the most visible to the public, has been the reconstruction of parts of the concrete flyover at Bletchey. Built in the early 1960s, it has suffered from so-called 'concrete cancer' and a significant proportion of the segments are having to be replaced.
The Transport & Works Act Order (TWAO) issued by the government approves the project almost completely in accordance with NR's application. In other words, NR has got everything it asked for. It means that most of the objections were overruled.
Here are the issues that raised most of the objections with the outcome now confirmed as follows:
- The land-take for Ecological Compensation Sites, rather than housing development, are still in the plans
- There will be no special protection for barn owls and some mortality is expected
- No further measures are needed to conserve bats, but new data from surveys will be used by NR in the detailed design of the project
- However, NR is required to design the project to increase the number of species of wild plants, birds and animals by 10% (no time limit)
- The noise barriers and sound proofing proposed by NR is adequate for the houses near to the railway
- The routes for construction traffic, including temporary road closures / diversions are approved without any change
- The level crossing at London Road, Bicester will remain, but NR will make changes to signalling to reduce the barrier-down periods
- The Pony Level Crossing, on the boundary of the Parishes of Walton and Bow Brickhill, will be retained and improved access ramps will be provided
- The pedestrian crossing for Lidlington school will be closed and users will have to share the road level crossing with traffic (in fact, they will probably just drive to the school as the crossing is hazardous)
- The pedestrian crossing at Woburn school will be closed and no bridge is added to the project, but NR may propose a separate project for a new pedestrian bridge
- The line will not be electrified and platforms will be limited to 6 carriages, but clearances are adequate for it to be electrified at a later date.
The main, specific planning conditions are:
- Telecomms masts must be no higher than 20 metres
- Seven locations are to be landscaped with trees, plants and other features, according to designs to be approved by the local planning authorities
- Archaeological surveys need to be carried out and any discoveries properly recorded and conserved
- Ecological Management Plans, Codes of Construction Practice, Construction Traffic Management Plans and Surface Water Drainage Assessment have to be written by NR and approved by the local authorities; and updated through the project stages
News: East West Rail Central Section preferred route chosen - January 2020
Published on 30/01/2020, written by John Henderson
Recent news: East West Railway Company announces its decision on the route from Bedford to Cambridge
On Thursday 30 January 2020 it was announced by the East West Railway Company that the railway between Bedford and Oxford would, if its preferred route is given permission to proceed, would be on a new alignment via St Neots and Cambourne, calling at the new Cambridge South station (due to open between 2025 and 2027) and Cambridge station. This is 'Route E', which was backed by 80% of responses to the public consultation in 2019. South Cambridgeshire councillors campaigned hard for it as well.
For Railfuture's view, please read an article on the Railfuture website.
See map, for details of the (preferred) route, which is not an actual alignment. One should not forget that there is still much detailed design work ahead before this project obtains a Development Consent Order. There will doubtless be plenty of opportunity to comment on details as they emerge for consultation. But for now, Railfuture welcomes this as a major step towards realising our vision.
The East West Rail Company, which the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, designated in late 2016 as the body to oversee the opening of a rail route between Bedford and Cambridge, was formally launched by Mr Grayling on 14 December 2017 when he also visited Bletchley Station and Bletchley Viaduct. The company has been working towards deciding on the route of the railway, which is likely to go close to Sandy (although Railfuture believes a route further north at St Neots has considerable merit (see report [see pages 6 and 8] to Cambridegshire County coucillors in 2013). However, it is important that pressure is kept on the government and politicians to ensure that the best possible railway is built and in a reasonable timescale. An opening date around 2028 could be possible if there is the political will.
Railfuture wants to see the new line electrified from day one. There is no cheaper way of doing it than as part of the initial construction. However, because of delayed and over-budget delivery of recent electrification schemes the government is not currently in favour of more electrification. This is something that must change and Railfuture continues to campaign on this, especially to ensure that the skills built up over decades that Britain lost in the early 1990s and had to expensively re-learn recently will not be lost a second time. Railfuture hopes that the completion of electrification of the TransPenine Route Upgrade, which Mr Grayling confirmed in July 2018 will take place, could see the teams transfer onto East West Rail.
The Department for Transport has agreed with Network Rail that the new Cambridge South station (which would serve Addenbrooke's Hospital and the biometric campus) will be opened as a four-platform station, although it has dropped its itention to double the railway from two to four tracks between Cambridge station and Shrepreth Branch Junction (where the Liverpool Street and King's Cross lines diverge) ultimately allowing capacity for six trains per hour between Bedford and Cambridge.
Railfuture is eager for services to the east of Cambridge to be planned from day one so that there will be direct services through Cambridge to Ipswich and Norwich. The Ox-Cam link will deliver substantial cross-region benefits.
Visit the News Archive for older news
East West Rail Progress
Over the last few years there has been increasingly good news about the East West Rail Link, although the full scheme will not be realised until at least late 2020s. Click [News Archive] to read Oxford-Cambridge news stories from 2010. These include:
- The upgraded link between Oxford station and Oxford Parkway opened to passengers on Sunday 11th December 2016, with an
opening ceremony performed by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, on Monday 12th December. The track-work
had been completed almost three months earlier, on 21 September 2016, as Network Rail confirmed in a
- First Oxford Parkway to Oxford train service (just 6 minutes versus bus link of 20 minutes) was at 08:44 on Sunday 11 December 2016. The train had started from London Marylebone and Railfuture representatives were on board it.
- Network Rail announced that the East West Rail Central Section will run in a Cambridge - Sandy - Bedford corridor [March 2016]
- Re-built upgraded line is opened providing high-quality service between Oxford Parkway and London Marylebone station [October 2015]
- Options for Bedford-Cambridge 'Central Section' reduced from seven down to two corridors [July 2015]
- Excellent news as study finds Bedford-Cambridge 'Central Section' has "significant economic growth potential [August 2014]
We should not forget the enormous political progress for the East West Rail Link in recent years:
- National Infrastructure Commission have taken on the burden of proving the case. Railfuture and other campaigners have nothing more to prove
- East-West rail is no longer just about transport policy. It sits at the heart of the government's economic and housing growth strategies. Big decisions affecting land values will soon be taken that will push this past the point of no return
- In the past, Railfuture and others have bemoaned the lack of interest in this project by local government, the Department for Transport, Network Rail and the Treasury. The 2017 budget statement was a game changer: it even included commitment to upgrade the railway in Cambridge to make it fit for better connections to Ipswich/Norwich, which Railfuture has campaigned for over a long time, and this can be used to advance other rail projects in the region
- As late as 2013 if you had asked officials in Whitehall if they thought East-West rail would get built, they would have smiled sweetly and said (something like) 'nice idea but there are too many obstacles to make it happen'
- Observers are sceptial that Cambridge-Bedford will be achieved by the "mid 2020s" but that is the official government position and Railfuture intends to hold them to it and expect it to be open within a decade.
UPDATE - See Railfuture Central Section photos about the Cambridge-Bedford route, uploaded in April 2016, and Western Section photos about the completion of the Oxford-Oxford Parkway route, uploaded in September 2016, which opened to the public on Sunday 11th December 2016 as a 'trial' day with the full service commencing the following day.
What YOU can do
Help us continue to Cambridge by contacting your MP. You can send our 'postcard' (PDF 34kB) to them. Spread the message and get as many other people as possible to do like-wise. You could either send them an email with the address of this web page, or print the leaflet (below) and postcard and give it to your friends. Many thanks.
For further information about Oxford-Cambridge Rail Link read our 2-page leaflet (PDF 2.5 MB - revised Jan 2013). [Leaflet photography by Brian Forbes and Jeffray Wotherspoon.]
What Railfuture has been doing
Railfuture held its national conference in Oxford on 2nd November 2013, which included a presentation about the Ox-Cam link from Patrick O'Sullivan of the East West Rail Consortium.
Railfuture also held a conference in Cambridge on 22nd June 2014, when nearly all of the speakers (including two representatives from Cambridgeshire County Council, which is leading on the Cambridge-Bedford section) mentioned the Ox-Cam link in their presentations. This clearly shows how important the rail link.
On 21st May 2016 Railfuture held its national AGM in Milton Keynes. The main speaker was Iain Stewart, MP for Milton Keynes South, who talked about East West Rail and how vital it is. There was also a presentation about the Borders Railway that reopened in September 2015, which serves a much lower population. It took only five years from final approval to opening to the public.
Ox-Cam mini-site developed with assistance from www.billingspecialists.co.uk.