The East West rail link was given Government backing today (29 November 2011) as part of its policy to kickstart the economy.

Rail campaigners have waited 30 years for this moment, but even now it is not clear exactly if and when work will begin.

In the small print of its announcement, £25 million is earmarked for the Oxford-Bedford section of the line between 2014 and 2015.

But the Government has warned that the £25 million contribution is "subject to a satisfactory local contribution to the cost of the project and a satisfactory business case".

The East West Rail Consortium of local authorities said it was delighted by the Chancellor's "significant endorsement".

David Sexton of the Department for Transport told the consortium in a letter: "I am pleased to tell you that the Chancellor is committed to developing the new East West rail link between Oxford, Bicester, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes and Bedford, for which the East West Consortium has demonstrated a strong case.

"Network Rail has been asked to develop the scheme further with the consortium and other stakeholders. Subject to a satisfactory local contribution to the cost of the project and a satisfactory business case, the Government will announce how it will take forward this scheme in summer 2012.

"Provided the conditions have been met, Network Rail will then work in conjunction with the East West Rail Consortium, to deliver the scheme set out by the consortium in its November 2011 prospectus.

"The Government will provide funding to Network Rail, subject to the consortium meeting a share of the costs, as set out in the prospectus."

Alan Francis, for Milton Keynes Green Party, said: "We welcome the announcement that rail links from Milton Keynes to Oxford and Aylesbury are to be reinstated as the western part of the East West rail link.

"We first suggested this to British Rail 30 years ago, when it was announced that a new station was to be built at Milton Keynes Central.

"We proposed that a passenger service should be operated between Oxford and the new Milton Keynes Central.

"We have been campaigning for the service ever since. Now it looks as though it might actually start operating in about 2016, a mere 35 years later.

"Trains can continue beyond Oxford to Didcot and Reading providing convenient links between Milton Keynes and the west of England and South Wales.”

But Mr Francis said the downside was the massive amount of money to be spent on roads, with around £1 billion on the A14 around Kettering, Huntingdon and Cambridge.

Mr Francis added: "Instead of spending this money on widening roads, which will just lead to more road traffic and more carbon emissions, the Government should be investing in the central section of EWRL between Bedford and Cambridge.

"This would cost much less and provide more benefits. It would enable both freight and passengers to transfer from congested roads on to the railway. Milton Keynes would then be linked by train to Cambridge and the rest of East Anglia.

"More of the freight from Felixstowe docks could go by rail, greatly reducing the number of HGVs on the roads.”

Railfuture's Hugh Jaeger said: "We have been campaigning for the East West rail link since the mid-1990s, so we're delighted that it's finally been approved.

"We know that this is a busy passenger corrider where there is plenty of demand. It represents fantastic value for money for the taxpayer, as research has predicted £6 returned for every £1 spent.

"This has to be the first step towards the full line to Cambridge, connecting together the whole of the 'knowledge arc' of high-tech companies."

He urged an earlier start on the project: "Why 2017 when the route is already a railway?"

East West Rail