Improving Rail Infrastructure

East West Rail, Cambridge South Station, Oxford-Didcot, Northampton-Old Oak Common, Rail Review

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East West Rail

For the latest information on England's Economic Heartland's position on East West Rail project and strategies, see our July 12 2019 Forum report

Map showing potential of East West Rail

One half of the region's transport 'spine', East West Rail will see train services restored between Oxford and Cambridge, and from Aylesbury to Milton Keynes.

The 'Western Section', from Oxford to Bedford and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes, is due to be completed by 2023.

The Central Section, from Bedford to Cambridge, is more challenging, as parts of the old Varsity Line have been built over. However, at the Autumn Budget 2017, the Government said it was aiming to accelerate the opening of this section to the mid-2020s.

The Strategic Transport Forum believes it is essential that the Government continues to invest in developing and then delivering the Central Section at the earliest possible opportunity. Local Plans are being put in place to guide growth up to 2031 and confidence in the delivery of East West Rail is necessary in order to enable councils to plan for growth.

Delivery of East West Rail opens opportunities to achieve a step-change in connectivity north-south, via Northampton-Milton Keynes-Aylesbury-Wycombe-London, including improved linkages with Heathrow Airport and Old Oak Common.

England's Economic Heartland is also supporting the East West Rail Consortium's 'Eastern Prospectus' which calls for direct passenger services from Ipswich and Norwich to Oxford on East West Rail.

Other priorities

​Priorities will be developed in more detail as work on the overarching Transport Strategy is taken forward. However, based on our current understanding, the immediate strategic issues are:

•Addressing capacity constraints between Didcot and Oxford
•Addressing capacity constraints on routes serving Cambridge (including links into Norfolk and Suffolk)
•Realising the opportunities to improve north-south connectivity on the Northampton – Milton Keynes – Bletchley – Aylesbury – High Wycombe – Old Oak Common/Park Royal corridor.
•Delivering Cambridge South station at the earliest opportunity. Read the full Cambridge South Station briefing Note from 4th June 2018.   

Rail Review

Our initial submission to the Rail Review highlights the strategic considerations we believe Keith Williams' team needs to address.

  • Development: The critical role of the rail transport system in enabling the delivery of planned growth must always be reflected in developing the specification for passenger services. We need to develop an approach that enables investment in new infrastructure and services to be better linked with planned growth, one that ensures that investment in rail is enabling investment that provides sustainable travel choices from day one of a new development. And we need to ensure that the benefits of investment in schemes such as East West Rail are taken into account when planning subsequent investment in strategic highway schemes.
  • Devolution: Proposals for devolution of the rail industry based on the historic network of radial routes and services run the severe risk of perpetuating a London-centric system. Not only does this run counter to broader Government ambitions to rebalance the economy nationally – it risks missing the opportunity afforded by East West Rail to create travel choices that better reflect the needs of the Heartland's residents and businesses and avoid the need to travel via London.
  • Freight: Planning for and delivering capacity for rail freight should take into consideration wider public sector policy objectives. Moving forward this may require the state being prepared to invest in strategic capability. For example, East West Rail has the potential to relieve freight movements into London, thus freeing up capacity for more passenger services – a key objective in the Mayor of London's Transport Strategy. The challenge currently is that investment in freight capacity is driven by market forces. And so we believe there is a case for the public sector to accept the need to invest based on the basis of the wider public good derived from it.
  • Integration: We believe the Review should examine the extent to which competition laws might inadvertently prevent the realisation of a truly integrated transport system.  For example potential bidders for franchises cannot include proposals to integrate local bus services to deliver an integrated offer to the public. In a desire to avoid creating monopolistic positions, we may be inadvertently missing opportunities to deliver the joined approach that will encourage greater use of public transport.