Improving capacity between Oxford and Didcot should be a key objective for the next Great Western Rail Franchise, according to England's Economic Heartland (EEH).
The new franchise is also an opportunity to consider how direct rail links can be restored between Swindon and the wider Heartland, alongside improved connectivity with other communities to the west of Didcot, EEH has told the DfT.
In its consultation response, the emerging Sub-national Transport Body said addressing constraints between Oxford and Didcot would support the economic ambition for the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth corridor – which could become the UK's Silicon Valley - and also boost longer-distance rail movements in both passenger and freight.
With the section between Oxford and Didcot nearing capacity and demand set to increase, EEH has called for there to be a requirement for the future franchise operator to work with itself, Network Rail and local partners to develop proposals which will allow more services and prevent over-crowding.
It added that 'greater attention' should be given to how improvements to the Oxford to Didcot section – in combination with East West Rail - offer additional opportunities for freight.
The need to improve the user experience at stations is also highlighted as a key issue for the next franchise.
"A growing concern for England's Economic Heartland is the urgent need to improve the passenger experience at all stations," it told DfT. Of particular importance is the 'need to ensure that stations are accessible to all users, that ticket facilities are available and that shelter is provided'.
Making the station environment appealing is needed 'to promote rail services as an attractive and viable option' and the 'strategic objectives should ensure that the user experience is at the heart of the franchise moving forward'.
The consultation asks whether the Great Western franchise – which currently stretches from Cornwall and south Wales to Brighton, Paddington and Gatwick – should be split.
EEH said delivery of East West Rail is a catalyst for needing to review whether the current rail franchise map is fit for purpose when it comes to realising the economic potential of the Heartland.
It said it 'is highly likely that some form of change to the franchise map, including changes to the scope of the Great Western franchise, is both desirable and appropriate moving forward'.
Martin Tugwell, director of England's Economic Heartland, said: "Our Strategic Transport Forum welcomes the opportunity to shape this franchise as work on re-letting begins. As the emerging Sub-national Transport Body for the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge corridor, these are issues on which we will be pushing Government over the coming year, particularly in relation to our Transport Strategy which is due to be published in the autumn."
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