Oxford to Cambridge rail project to be reconsidered

The East West Rail (EWR) initiative hopes to establish a line connecting Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Milton Keynes and Bedford.

It will be scrutinised by a transport committee on Wednesday.

This comes following a National Audit Office (NAO) report which stated the government “is not yet clear how the benefits of the project will be achieved nor how it aligns to other government plans for growth in the region”.

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The project is expected to cost £6-7 billion.

Oxford Mail: Bicester Village north carpark facing south (artist's concept of an underpass)Bicester Village north carpark facing south (artist’s concept of an underpass) (Image: Andrew Coram)

Owen Sheppard, senior media and communications officer for House of Commons Select Committees, said: “As well as seeking an update on how plans are progressing, MPs will want to hear how local government, businesses and residents have been consulted and communicated with, and how the government and EWR will respond to the findings of the NAO’s report.”

Rail minister Huw Merriman will be present along with Department for Transport officials and the project’s chief executive to scrutinise the proposals.

Meanwhile, other interested parties have also expressed their own concerns.

Paul Troop, secretary of Bicester Bike Users’ Group said: “Bicester Bike Users’ Group (BBUG) represents utility cyclists in the town.

“We have more than 100 members with a large proportion who are disabled, elderly, and vulnerable, as well as lots of parents and families.

Oxford Mail: London Road railway level crossing in Bicester where an increase in London-bound trains from Oxford has caused more frequent, and sometimes longer, waits for drivers and pedestrians..20.03.2017. .Pic by Jon LewLondon Road railway level crossing in Bicester where an increase in London-bound trains from Oxford has caused more frequent, and sometimes longer, waits for drivers and pedestrians..20.03.2017. .Pic by Jon Lew (Image: Jon Lew)

“Many of our members rely on their bikes as their main means of transport.

“EWR’s shortcomings with consultation are epitomised by what’s happening in Bicester.

“The railway runs right through the middle of town and will effectively cut the north off from the south.

“Pedestrians and cyclists will not be able to go around, yet we currently have little concrete idea of what EWR is proposing as a solution.”

Options put forward by EWR for maintaining connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians included an accessible overbridge, either at or near the current crossing, or an underpass at or near the crossing.

Oxford Mail: London Road south side (Artist's concept of an underpass)London Road south side (Artist’s concept of an underpass) (Image: Andrew Coram)

Mr Troop added: “We remain worried that EWR will not propose a pedestrian and cycle underpass, or they will propose an underpass design that would be unsuitable for most users.’”

Beth West, chief executive of EWR, said: “Quick reliable public transport linking Oxford to Cambridge continues to have widespread local support and our updated proposals, including those for the London Road level crossing in Bicester, have been shaped by hundreds of conversations we’ve had with local people, businesses and other stakeholders and the thousands of responses we received to our most recent public consultation.”

Mr Sheppard confirmed that the government is “committed” to the EWR project but that Wednesday’s meeting will offer scrutiny of the proposals.

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