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updated 1:22 PM BST, Jul 4, 2014
Technology and life sciences news from the Cambridge cluster

Oxford to Bedford rail to open 2017 but Cambridge not yet in sight

A map showing the East West Rail LinkThe government has given its financial backing to a rail line running from Oxford as far as Bedford, but the wait for a direct link to Cambridge continues indefinitely.

Confirming £270m of funding for what is known as the 'Western' section of the East West Rail (EWR), the Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, also revealed electrification for the route that will link Aylesbury, Oxford and Reading with Bedford and Milton Keynes.

EWR will provide an electric link between the electrified Great Western, West Coast and Midland main lines. Built on existing track, the plan is to have it operational by 2017 with one train per hour from Reading to Oxford and Bedford with the Oxford to Bedford stretch taking 60 minutes.

With five years needed to make the connection on what is existing track, the the 'Central' section of the EWR which would take it through to Cambridge, linking the UK's top two universities with a direct line, sits some way off as major new build would be necessary.

Much of the track from the connection via Sandy that used to go to Cambridge has disappeared and there are even radio telescopes belonging to Cambridge University on parts of the route.

The announcement made today follows last year's Autumn Statement by Chancellor, George Osborne that EWR funding of £270 million would be made available providing that the promoter of the scheme, the EWR Consortium, met two conditions:. A strong, robust business case for the route and a commitment by local authorities along the route to contribute to the cost.

A 'commitment in principle' to contribute £50m over a period of 15 to 20 years from 2014 onwards has now been agreed by the western section members of the Consortium.

The Consortium is forecasting that the re-opened railway will bring up to 12,000 new jobs to the area as well as increasing annual regional gross domestic product by £38m and tax revenues by £17m. In terms of rail demand it will add up to 2.58 million rail trips p.a. and remove up to 1.5 million car trips p.a.