UK: Project promoter East West Railway Co has published updated plans for the development of the future Oxford to Cambridge rail corridor, and confirmed its preferred alignment for the Bedford to Cambridge section of the route.
The latest plans take into account the results of public consultation undertaken in 2021. They were published on May 26 along with a report on consultation feedback, an economic and technical report and information for property owners.
Statutory consultation on the proposed route is planned for the first half of 2024, ahead of the application for a Development Consent Order.
The Oxford – Bicester – Bletchley – Bedford section of East West Rail will use existing or reinstated railways. Greenfield construction will be needed east of Bedford, as rebuilding the closed former railway was considered but rejected on environmental grounds and because of the flood risk.
EWR Co proposes the relocation of the existing Bedford St Johns station closer to the hospital, which it says would be more convenient while also improving the rail route into Bedford’s main station.
EWR Co says its preferred alignment from the 2021 consultation, passing through Bedford station and to the north of the town, remains the best option. There would be two additional tracks alongside the existing Midland Main Line north of Bedford. EWR Co has reduced the number of residential properties which would need to be acquired from 97 to 65.
The line would then run to new stations at Tempsford on the East Coast Main Line, which EWR Co has concluded is a better option than St Neots South as it would be better located to support rail-centred development, and at Cambourne North.
After studying possible northern and southern approaches to Cambridge, EWR Co has selected a southern alignment which, while more expensive, would enable trains to serve Addenbrooke’s Hospital and the biomedical campus via Cambridge South station which is currently under construction.
Based on its latest studies, EWR Co believes it could remove or reduce the height of half (by length) of the embankments and viaducts on the new alignment from what was shown at the consultation.
‘The cities of Oxford and Cambridge are renowned across the globe for their academic excellence – East West Rail will be vital in allowing them to thrive for generations to come and help to grow the economy’, said Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper.
‘With the potential to unlock £103bn of growth through new homes, businesses and job opportunities, this crucial line will also serve as a catalyst for development in one of Europe’s most vibrant local economies while making travel quicker, cheaper and easier across the region.’
Construction of the section between Bicester and Bletchley is underway, and regular Oxford to Milton Keynes trains are planned to run from 2025.
The latest proposal is for a full East West Rail service of four trains per hour from Oxford, two terminating at Milton Keynes and two continuing to Cambridge. There would be a further two trains per hour between Bedford and Cambridge.
There would also be a service of three trains per hour between Bletchley and Bedford, down from the previous proposal of four to five trains to reduce the need for construction works. One of the Bedford to Cambridge trains could start from Bletchley.
Dr Andy Williams, Chair of the Oxford-Cambridge Supercluster Board, said ‘connectivity between Oxford, Cambridge and the towns in between is vital to opening up the flow of talented people, innovation and investment needed to secure the UK’s position as a global science supercluster’.
The line is being developed as passenger railway, but there is some freight on existing sections of the route.
The project could enable up to two additional freight trains per day in each direction from Southampton through Oxford to Bletchley, and another two from Felixstowe through Cambridge to Oxford.
EWR Co says freight demand is unlikely to exceed this ‘without significant further investment, both on EWR and elsewhere on the rail network.’
EWR Co says it is ‘focused on delivering a net zero carbon railway’ and ‘continuing to evaluate a range of technological solutions for powering our trains’.
A decision about traction has not yet been made and ‘it could be conventional electric trains powered by overhead line equipment, or it could be other rapidly advancing technology such as battery power to help lower our carbon emissions.’