Network Rail is currently holding a third round of public consultations on Phase 2 of the Western Section of East West Rail. See East West Rail Phase 2 Round Three Consultation – Network Rail – Citizen Space

Why is Network Rail Consulting?

In July 2017 the Department for Transport (DfT) directed Network Rail to evaluate whether the capital costs of the project could be reduced whilst maintaining all of the benefits for local connectivity within the Oxford–Milton Keynes corridor. Network Rail identified that savings could be achieved to the total project costs through a combination of changes to the construction methodology and the Project’s scope. The DfT have endorsed that these changes be taken forward. The scope change has resulted in alterations to the Project, necessitating a third round of consultation.

Consultation opened on 12 January 2018 and will close on 9 February. A series of public events were held in village locations between 15 and 19 January – I attended the session in Launton on Friday 19 January.

As well as the changes to the project, details were given about the plans for how traffic will be managed during construction. A start date of December 2019 was given for works in the Bicester and Launton area. That date could slip if the Order giving legal consent for the works is delayed.

Further details and project documentation can be found online (see link above). There was no consultation in Bicester this time around as there were no changes to plans previously consulted on in July 2017. Other details including the service frequency over the route remain as planned.

What has actually changed?

In 2016 it was determined that the line from Oxford to Bletchley would not now be electrified. Nevertheless it has been the case for some time that if and when structures such as bridges and tunnels needed to be replaced, the necessary clearance for overhead electrification at 25kV AC would be provided whether or not there has been a plan for electrification. Sometimes structures need repair or replacement or they may require modification for other reasons, for example to provide increased clearance for freight, especially container traffic. And it is generally the case that the additional clearance including for electrification can be provided for little or no extra cost thereby giving a degree of future proofing.

Following further descoping of the project it transpires that there are 6 bridges which are not now being rebuilt. Should electrification be given the go-ahead subsequently, those bridges would require rebuilding. (Unfortunately it won’t just be a case of putting up the wires).

One of the 6 bridges is the one at Bicester Road in Launton. That bridge would have been replaced with a new structure on a new road alignment. Now the existing bridge will have the parapets raised however the width restriction and traffic lights remain.

Summary of Changes to EWR2 Project

  • Certain structures are not now being replaced – there will be insufficient clearance for electrification in future
  • Loops at Newton Longville cancelled
  • Aylesbury to Claydon not now doubled; rebuilt as a single track
  • Western platform, footbridge, stairs and lifts at Aylesbury Vale Parkway not required
  • No track works south of Aylesbury Vale Parkway (existing level crossings and 40mph speed limit will remain)
  • New Winslow station to be built with shorter platforms than planned

It is unclear how much will actually be “saved” by these changes. Given the recent announcement of £1bn funding for EWR2 in November 2017 it is surprising that the money cannot be found to at least future proof the route for electrification. As the route is currently closed to through traffic it ought to be possible to electrify relatively cheaply. I fear that this decision not to plan for electrification will prove very shortsighted. Just as shortsighted as the decision to close the route 50 years ago.