New rail connection between Oxfordshire, Milton Keynes and Bedford moves a step closer

Rail and road users in Oxfordshire are set for a significant boost with a new direct rail connection to Milton Keynes and Bedford taking a step closer to becoming reality.

The news comes after the Secretary of State for Transport approved Network Rail’s Transport and Works Act Order application, granting permission for work to begin on the next phase of East West Rail.

Work can soon begin on Phase 2 of East-West Rail after central government granted planning powers – which will mean services to Bicester, Oxford Parkway and Oxford double with services running every 15 minutes.

The new route will also help reduce traffic on the A34 as some journeys will become more practical to take the train rather than use the roads.

The Government’s milestone decision means that Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District can now play a key part in the project in terms of putting the required highways and planning consents in place to deliver this key infrastructure work.

This will enable vital work to be undertaken including the removal of the level crossing at Charbridge Lane in Bicester to be replaced by a bridge over the railway. Details of the work involved will be notified in due course and both Oxfordshire County and Cherwell District councils will continue to play their parts in the East West Rail Consortium on the detail of programmed works, to minimise disruption to residents, particularly in the Bicester area.

The first phase between Oxford and Bicester delivered in 2016 enabled new train services between Oxford and London Marylebone via Bicester, with Phase 2 enabling new services to Milton Keynes and Bedford by 2024. A decision on the preferred central section route to enable delivery of the final phase between Bedford and Cambridge was made at the end of January, and it is expected that construction on this section could start by 2025 with trains running by the late 2020s.

Cllr Constance, Cabinet Member for Environment at Oxfordshire County Council said: “Infrastructure development is key to developing the immense potential of England’s Economic Heartland from Oxfordshire, to central England and beyond to East Anglia. The announcement on Phase 2 of the western section is a major milestone towards delivery of the full East West Rail project. It will also play an important role in helping to reduce road congestion along the A34 and other strategic roads.”

Further information:

East West Rail phase 2 is part of the wider East West Rail proposal to connect Cambridge to Oxford.

The Western Section (phase 1), which operates services between Oxford and Bicester was completed in December 2016.

The Western Section (phase 2) proposes to extend services from Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury.

The Central Section (phase 3) will see the full reconnection from Cambridge to Oxford, and the proposal is currently in development.

Alongside Oxfordshire Growth Board partners, the County Council recently completed Stage 1 of the Oxfordshire Rail Connectivity Study. This identifies an opportunity for new services to operate through to Didcot, allowing for direct services between Bicester and Didcot for the first time in history. The council will continue to work in partnership on this with others, including through the East West Rail Consortium and England’s Economic Heartland, the sub-national transport body for the area between Swindon and Cambridge.