On 27 July Network Rail submitted a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) application to the government. This application seeks the necessary permissions for Phase 2 of the to complete the Western Section of the East West Rail project between Bicester and Aylesbury to Bletchley, Milton Keynes and Bedford (EWR2).
It is being funded by the Department for Transport with a contribution from the East West Rail Consortium. The Western Section as far as Bedford is due to be fully completed by 2024. Trains between Bicester and Bletchley would commence sooner, it is hoped by 2023.
The wider project would eventually see Oxford linked with Cambridge and improve links between East Anglia and central, southern and western England. It should be good news for Bicester overall.
However, it will adversely affect the London Road level crossing and as yet there is no news on a solution here or how it would be funded.
There have been various consultations held over the last 3 years. The first public consultation for EWR2 took place in September and October 2015 followed by a second round from 30 June to 11 August 2017. Consultation was open to all and invited people to view, discuss and give feedback on the plans.
In 2017 some changes were made to the scope and delivery of the scheme in some areas; essentially Network Rail were directed to save money. A third round of public consultation to share these updates took place between 12 January and 9 February 2018.
What has changed?
The project was reduced in cost whilst broadly maintaining the committed outputs. In theory it means better value for money. The infrastructure is still being designed to sustain the same frequency of trains, and also capable of taking the largest containers. Notably work between Princes Risborough and Aylesbury was removed completely from scope. Electrification was also cancelled and the section between Aylesbury and Claydon Junction will remain as a single track, although upgraded to 90mph. There will be provision to add a second track at a future date.
The initial train service specified in these documents now includes 2 trains per hour (2tph) between Oxford and Milton Keynes, an increase from 1tph which is to be welcomed. Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury are both 1tph as before. However, it now looks like there will not be a through service between Milton Keynes and Marylebone.
All change at Aylesbury?
A change at Aylesbury will now be required but there would be a choice of routing via Amersham and via High Wycombe and it still achieves the objective of improving connectivity between north Bucks, Aylesbury and the south of the county.
Splitting the service at Aylesbury is likely to enable the new service operated by the new East West Rail Company to be kept separate from the Chiltern operation. By the time services begin in 2023 or 2024 there may be a new Chiltern franchisee – the franchise expires in December 2021.
In reality the split service will only affect customers from Winslow who will not now have a direct service to London. But it was always going to be quicker for them to travel via Bletchley to Euston or even at Bicester Village for Marylebone.
I remain critical of the decision to remove electrification and not provide passive provision. The decision seems particularly short sighted and politically driven and similar concerns appear to be shared by the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee. It is likely this will be yet another decision we come to regret as it will cost a lot more to put right later.
The full documentation can be viewed online at https://www.networkrail.co.uk/our-railway-upgrade-plan/key-projects/east-west-rail/western-section/
Hard copies are available at local libraries or may be provided on request from Network Rail (reasonable copying charges may apply – up to a maximum of £5000 for the full suite of documents!!) or an electronic copy can be provided on CD for £5.
Objections, representations and letters of support can be made by anyone until 7 September 2018. These should be sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, details above.