Strategic connectivity: public transport

Investment in transformational infrastructure – particularly East West Rail and mass rapid transit, supported by high quality first mile, last mile provision– is central to supporting the region's residents and businesses.

Securing the right service offer is crucial, given the varied work patterns of our communities and the need to unlock opportunities for all, including those in rural areas with limited access to the public transport network.

The offer to the travelling public must be of the highest possible standard – safe, clean and high quality, and accessible to all. We need to restore confidence, not just for the short term, but the long term.

We will champion the importance of ensuring our transport system is inclusive by design, allowing people to travel with confidence and ease through well designed physical infrastructure and accessible information to help aid journey planning.

During the period of the 2022-2025business plan, we will...

  • Advocate for delivery of East West Rail in full, including the Aylesbury link.
  • Ensure that the government’s roads investment strategy and 30‑year plan for rail reflect the region’s priorities.
  • Prioritise and develop an action plan for strategically important roads and rail, following completion of the passenger rail study and the Oxford to Cambridge road study.
  • Complete the current programme of connectivity studies and, following this, review whether there are any further areas of study or evidence needed as a result of their conclusions.
  • Develop a long‑term plan for regional bus and coach connectivity and work with the EEH Bus Operators Association to implement its recommendations.

Ongoing work

East West Rail (ongoing)

East West Rail is the transformational investment for our region. Though each section of East West Rail brings with it benefits to the communities it serves, the full transformational benefit will only to be realised through the creation of the East West Main Line in full between Oxford and Cambridge, including the link to Aylesbury. A priority is maximising the benefits of the government's investment through good first mile, last mile connectivity to stations.

EEH also supports the ambition for an East West Main Line, running from Ipswich and Norwich through to Swindon, Bristol and South Wales. England's Economic Heartland provides officer and administrative support to the East West Main Line Partnership, which is actively developing the longer-term ambition for the East West Main Line.

Buses (ongoing)

A long-term plan for bus travel in the region is a key priority for England’s Economic Heartland during 2023, with a raft of work which will be delivered during the year ahead.

Already underway is a major programme of presentations, toolkits, one-to-one sessions and advice notes to support local authorities to plan, deliver and promote an effective bus network. A collaboration between EEH, Transport East and Transport for the South East, it has been made possible by £300,000 of government additional funding. The packages, supported by subject experts from Mott MacDonald and Arup, run until April and cover topics including:

  • Fares and ticketing
  • Data analysis, monitoring and evaluation
  • Low cost and quick wins
  • Building a strong case
  • Bus infrastructure guidance
  • Demand responsive transport
  • Rural hubs and integration
  • Funding mechanisms
  • Marketing
  • Alternative and low emissions fuels

In addition, EEH has established a bus forum bringing together the public and private sector, aimed at increasing cross-boundary collaboration over bus services which is essential to a successful regional transport system.

Guided by last year’s Regional Bus Strategy and discussions with partners, England’s Economic Heartland has several upcoming projects to support the delivery of a regional bus network which is fit for the future, covering:

  • The economic case for regional bus investment
  • Potential for better provision, infrastructure enhancement and new service models
  • Passenger viewpoints
  • Opportunities for integrated ticketing
  • Costs
  • How digital technologies can be harnessed to market bus travel.

Funding for buses

Buses form the bedrock of a low carbon public transport network and while there exist some significant and live challenges for the bus sector, there is a suite of evidence that reinforces the significant contribution that buses play when they are planned well and serving an engaged market.

Successes such as the Luton to Dunstable guided busway, where 20% of all trips made between those two locations are by bus, demonstrate the potential for bus-based travel in the region. There is a need to learn from this success and seek to replicate it elsewhere, using new technologies and innovation to support service provision and catchment volumes where possible.

Partners across the Heartland are ambitious for bus-based transit, but without certainty or clarity of funding it is difficult for partners to plan reasonable and viable solutions. A key priority for EEH in the coming months is to work with the government to ensure funding for bus-based transit is a priority. Building on the evidence captured in the Regional Bus Study, EEH will press DfT for a clear funding settlement for local transport.

For the settlement to be a success, it needs to be managed and prioritised by local partners so it can be well planned to deliver the greatest outcome for the region’s communities. This doesn’t always need to be new funding, there is an opportunity for STBs to work with DfT to ensure the funding available for transport (albeit currently allocated by ‘mode’) can be better allocated and invested to deliver particular outcomes, rather than for a mode alone.

Previous work

Supporting the case for East West Rail (autumn 2022)

The desire to secure government commitment to delivery of East West Rail in full, including Bletchley to Cambridge and the Aylesbury link has been a long-standing commitment of the Strategic Transport Leadership Board.

In order to support the case for investment, it was agreed by the Board and the East West Main Line Partnership that a single narrative about the role of East West Rail was essential. In parallel, the East West Main Line Partnership (which EEH provides secretariat for) completed work on their business advocacy report, which complements the strategic narrative.

In the Autumn Statement 2022, the Chancellor 'recommitted' the government to delivering East West Rail.

Rail Passenger Study (2020 and 2021)

Working with EEH, Network Rail has conducted a baseline assessment and review of the existing rail network and levels of service in the region, published in 2020.

This process has enabled EEH to identify and understand where significant rail connectivity gaps exist, what rail enhancements are in development or delivery and what decarbonised/non decarbonised services there are on the network.

EEH's Passenger Rail Study Phase Two published in June 2021, identifies and prescribes aspirational service level outcomes for priority journey pairings where analysis demonstrated stronger connectivity by rail would generate a significant return on investment.

We will use the output from this to prepare Conditional Outputs that set out the requirements of the region to be reflected in amendments to existing passenger franchises and/or in preparation for concessions.

Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study (2021)

On June 30 Network Rail published the Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study (ORCS). ORCS looks in detail at the county’s predicted growth in jobs and housing over the next two decades and presents an industry vision for how the rail network can best support it.

The study was funded by the Department for Transport, Oxfordshire Growth Board, East West Rail Consortium and England’s Economic Heartland. The study has been a collaboration with industry partners and helped develop an overarching strategy for rail development in the area.

ORCS has recommended several potential future improvements to improve connectivity across Oxfordshire. Priorities include increasing capacity through Oxford station; reopening the Cowley branch line; and additional infrastructure to provide greater capacity in and around Didcot, including the proposal for a new station at Wantage/Grove, subject to additional main line infrastructure. The study’s recommendation has been drawn together to form an overarching industry strategy for the county known as ‘Oxfordshire Connect’.

Regional Bus Strategy (published July 2022)

The Regional Bus Strategy, published in July 2022, complements the work of our local authority partners by setting a consistent regional vision and approach to bus travel, while also identifying opportunities to improve cross-boundary bus movements.

Consultation responses/ correspondence

GBRTT Whole Industry Strategic Plan call for evidence (March 2022)

Letter to Secretary of State for Transport regarding East West Rail (December 2021)

East West Railway Company consultation response June 2021

West Coast Partnership Timetable Consultation response January 2021.pdf

Welland Valley project letter of support November 2020.pdf

Cambridge Eastern Access Consultation November 2020.pdf

Cambridge South Station Infrastructure Enhancements November 2020.pdf

High Wycombe DRT pilot letter of support April 2020.pdf

East Midlands Rail Franchise consultation response.pdf February 2020

EEH letter to Williams Review January 2019.pdf

EEH Old Oak Common consultation response (PDF 96KB).pdf November 2017

Blogs/ news

EEH continues major programme of work to maximise bus opportunities in region

EEH welcomes Autumn Statement commitment to East West Rail

Reaction to September 2022 'Mini-Budget'

EEH reaction to Union Connectivity Review

Potential rail improvements identified in new study by EEH and Network Rail

How EEH and other STBs are ideally positioned to support Great British Railways

Plan for Rail is a 'watershed moment'

EEH welcomes Company's second East West Rail consultation

EEH welcomes East West Rail funding announcement

BLOG: "Maybe the region’s next transformational rail project begins here…"

Passenger Rail Study 'vital for improving understanding of future needs'

BLOG: Pandemic must not stop rail progress in its tracks

Board/ Forum papers

Item 7 East West Rail Strategic Narrative Strategic Transport Leadership Board 30092022

Item 9 William Shapps Plan for Rail Strategic Transport Leaders Board 15072022

Agenda Item 7 Regional Bus Strategy Strategic Transport Leaders Board 13052022

18022022 - Agenda Item 4 Long term investment in the railway.pdf

Strategic transport leadership board 9 12 21 Item 4 Supporting investment in rail

Strategic Transport Leadership Board 24-09-21 Item 7 Regional Bus Study 240921

July 16 2021 Forum agenda item 4 Plan For Rail

May 14 2021 Bus Back Better report

May 14 2021 East West Rail consultation report

May 14 2021 Rail Passenger Study Phase Two report

Agenda Item 4 Strategic Rail Priorities 110920.pdf

Agenda Item 8 EMR December 2020 Timetable Consultation Response 240120.pdf

Agenda Item 9 Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study incl Annex 1-3 240120.pdf