East West Rail’s full potential to enhance north-south connectivity across the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge growth arc depends on harnessing additional capacity on the West Coast Mainline which HS2 will create, according to England’s Economic Heartland’s Strategic Transport Forum.
Its Strategic Rail Investment Priorities, published this month, highlights the opportunity East West Rail provides to improve north-south connectivity between Northampton, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and Old Oak Common, linking up a number of urban areas that are centres of economic and housing growth. Network Rail has already suggested improving connectivity to the rail interchange at Old Oak Common could provide relief for Marylebone Station from the mid-2020s.
Realising this opportunity will require utilising the additional capacity on the West Coast Mainline which HS2 will create post-2026, while also improving the sections of track between Aylesbury and Princes Risborough, and between the Chiltern main line and the Great Western main line.
Councillor Heather Smith, Strategic Transport Forum chairman, said: “It may be called East West Rail, but this scheme actually benefits all points on the compass.
“Work on letting the West Coast Partnership franchise is underway. Given its strategic importance, it is essential that the Department for Transport and prospective franchisees work with the Forum to ensure the right allocation of capacity on the West Coast Main Line post HS2. We will engage with the short-listed operators to ensure that their proposals take into account the Heartland’s strategic requirements, realising the ambition for economic growth outlined in the recent National Infrastructure Commission report.”
The strategy also calls for capacity constraints between Oxford and Didcot and in and around Cambridge to be addressed.
Additional capacity between Didcot and Oxford is crucial to improve connectivity across the Heartland region, which also benefits longer distance passenger and freight services.
Improving the rail offer serving Cambridge was identified as a priority by Government in last month’s Budget. The opening of East West Rail’s Central Section, together with enhancements east of Cambridge to Ipswich, Norwich and beyond, offers new opportunities to support the Cambridgeshire economy.