• Mon. May 27th, 2024

Rail campaigners lobby Transport Secretary for restored Oxford to Cambridge Varsity Line


Sep 22, 2022

Rail campaigners are urging the Govetnment to stick to its pledge to improve rail links between Oxford and Cambridge by restoring the 'Varsity Line'.

As Oxford prepares for more weekend station closures to allow improvement work to go ahead, campaign group Railfuture has warned that restoration of the Oxford-Cambridge “Varsity Line” might never be completed as intended.

The railway between Bicester and Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, is currently being restored by a company called East West Rail, with trains between Oxford and Milton Keynes due to start by the end of 2024.

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At Bletchley it will link up with an existing rail route to Bedford, but plans to extend services onward to Cambridge depend on planning permission for a partly new rail route.

Oxford Mail:

Railfuture is warning that comments by former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – who was replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle this month – give cause for concern.

Dave Richardson, spokesman for Railfuture’s Thames Valley branch, said: “Trains from Oxford to Cambridge have not run since 1968, meaning a long detour via London if you want to travel between these two great university cities by rail.

"Bus links are inadequate and it is vital to have better rail services if we are to hit our carbon reduction targets.

“East West Rail promised to reconnect the Varsity Line, which would benefit not only travellers between Oxford and Cambridge, but make possible direct trains from Oxford to places such as Leicester, Nottingham, Peterborough and points north. But that is now at risk.”

Oxford Mail:

The former Transport Secretary repeated his doubts that East West Rail would be completed in full while approving a new dual carriageway road to run from the A1 to near Cambridge.

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He dismissed claims that the road scheme is not needed as it runs along the same corridor as the proposed East West Rail.

“This rather looks like he was softening us up for a future cancellation announcement,” added Mr Richardson.

“The Government has a track record of halting rail schemes halfway through – just look at the Great Western electrification which didn’t reach places including Oxford and Bristol.

"It mustn’t be allowed to do this yet again with East West Rail.

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“We call on the new Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, to commit to a much more ambitious case for this railway line.

"Electrify it and use it for freight services as well, relieving local roads and reducing the cost of pothole repairs.

"Then run proper regional services on it such as Swindon to Ipswich and Oxford to Leicester, and recognise that a railway is essential to support the extra housing needed in the area. It can be a diversionary route as well – let’s have less of those dreaded rail replacement buses.”

Expansion of Oxford station, to be completed by 2024, allows for new services to Milton Keynes (connecting with the Midlands and North) as well as along the Cowley branch.

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This story was written by Andy Ffrench, he joined the team more than 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Get in touch with him by emailing: Andy.ffrench@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF