Trains from Oxford and Bicester to Milton Keynes and Bedford by 2023
On 17 November the National Infrastructure Commission published its final report on the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth corridor Partnering for Prosperity.
The report called on the Government to make the corridor a national priority. It made a strong recommendation to deliver East West Rail as soon as possible (see nic.org.uk/our-work/growth-corridor).
The Government duly obliged by agreeing to £1bn of additional funding in the budget on 22 November. Following the announcement by the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, the Western Section of the East West Rail Project can now be completed. The project would link Bicester, Aylesbury and Princes Risborough to Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford.
Phase 1 between Oxford and Bicester was completed in 2016. The work on Phase 2 of the Western Section covers the route from Bicester to Bletchley. Passenger train services from Reading, Oxford and Bicester to Bletchley and Milton Keynes and Bedford are expected to be introduced in 2023. Trains from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury and via Princes Risborough to Marylebone are due to begin in 2024.
The single line east of Bicester to Claydon Junction is currently only used by freight trains and will be upgraded for fast passenger services. The section of track between Claydon Junction and Bletchley has been out of use and ‘mothballed’ since the early 1990s and will be completely rebuilt. On completion there will be a 100mph double track main line between Oxford and Bletchley.
A new station will be provided at Winslow and new high-level platforms will be provided at Bletchley. From Bletchley, train services on the East West Rail route will follow the existing Marston Vale Line to Bedford. At Bletchley, East West Rail trains to Milton Keynes will join the West Coast Main Line.
Network Rail carried out the second round of consultations on the project in summer 2017 ahead of applying for the necessary legal consents under the Transport and Works Act. Construction will be delivered by Network Rail and an alliance of Atkins, VolkerRail and Laing O’Rourke.
The major construction around Calvert and Claydon Junction (where the route from Aylesbury joins the line from Bicester to Bletchley) has already been authorised as part of the HS2 project. Construction work on HS2 (and some work for East West Rail) in this area begins in summer 2018.
Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Growth Corridor
The Treasury backing East West Rail is part of a high level Government vision to stimulate growth in the corridor. According to the Partnering for Prosperity report, up to 1 million homes need to be built by 2050. The Central Section of East West Rail linking Bedford and Cambridge could be delivered by 2025. The same report also advocates building a Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Expressway (i.e. a high quality, grade-separated dual carriage way road scheme). Both are seen as necessary to support house-building and economic growth.
Between Cambridge, Bedford and the M1 at Junction 13 near Milton Keynes the route of the Expressway is clear. It will follow the existing A428 via Cambourne and St Neots to the A1. From the A1, the A421 heads via Bedford and joins the M1 at Junction 13 near Milton Keynes. Work will consist of improving junctions – in particular the Black Cat roundabout on the A1 and dualling remaining single carriageway sections of the A428. West of the M1 the single carriageway A421 links to Milton Keynes.
Between Oxford and Milton Keynes, plans for the Expressway are at an early stage. From what I have seen, plans for the Bedford to Cambridge Central Section of East West Rail are rather more advanced than the Expressway between Oxford and M1 Junction 13. The route of the Expressway is likely to be controversial. It could pass close to Bicester (either by upgrading existing roads or with a completely new road broadly following East West Rail). The favoured solution seems to be a more southerly option which would pass close to Aylesbury and south of Oxford.
Meanwhile, the Central Section of East West Rail will follow the corridor from Bedford via Sandy to Cambridge. However I don’t expect either East West Rail or the Expressway to be delivered by 2025. I rather suspect the railway would reach Cambridge before the Expressway reaches Oxford.