Government announces £760m for first stage of East West Rail project

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Bedford station
The second phase of the project will connect Bedford with Oxford

The Government has announced £760 million to support the new East West Rail line connecting communities between Oxford and Cambridge, with phase two of the project connecting Oxford to Bedford.

The latest funding is for part of the line between Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes, with this section of East West Rail expected to be up and running by 2025.

Bedford is at the heart of the East West rail link and the completion of the railway is seen as a boost to the local economy.

However, critics are concerned that the construction of the route will spoil the county’s historic landscape and that noise of 24-hour freight transport will disturb neighbouring residents.

The National Infrastructure Commission estimated that creating these transport links and supporting the area between Oxford and Cambridge was worth nearly £80bn extra each year for the British economy.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Returning these routes to their former glory, and progressing work to reopen even more lines and stations, shows our commitment to levelling up journeys across the country as we build back better from the pandemic.”

The project will now be delivered in three “Connection Stages”, relating directly to a full journey – not just the building of infrastructure:

Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes
Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford
Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge

The dreaming spires of Oxford

Connecting Oxford to Bedford: upgrading Bedford Station and the section between Bletchley to Bedford

The funding bid for the Second Connection Stage will be submitted to the Government is about creating a reliable connection for two trains an hour between Oxford and Bedford – which can then be extended to Cambridge in later Connection Stages.

A spokesperson for EWR Co said, “To deliver the full Oxford-Cambridge service [it] is going to require significantly more investment than envisaged by Network Rail for the Western Section – including the remodelling of Bedford Station.

“Our ambition is to get trains up and running from Oxford to Bedford as quickly as possible, so we’re looking at upgrade options, and the best way to deliver the upgrade required.

“We’ll put forward proposals as part of the consultation in early 2021 and submit our funding bid to Government for the construction of this section of East West Rail in the 2021 Spending Review.”

Cllr Sue Clark, Chair of the East West Rail Consortium and ward councillor for Cranfield and Marston Moretaine, said: “We look forward to having confirmation that Milton Keynes-Aylesbury and Bletchley-Bedford will also be delivered as soon as possible.

“While each section brings its own benefits to the communities it serves, East West Rail’s full transformational potential will only be realised if it is delivered in full.

“We will continue to press the case for the investment in these two sections by working with the East West Railway Company to ensure that their proposals meet the requirements of users and communities for the decades to come.

“And we will continue to press the Government for an early decision on the investment that will allow those sections to be delivered as soon as possible.”

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