Posted 15th July 2022 | 8 Comments

Uncertainty grows over East West Rail

There are increasing doubts about the future of East West Rail linking Oxford and Cambridge, after transport secretary Grant Shapps said he would consider cancelling Phases 2 and 3.

Phase 2 will connect with the existing railway from Oxford at Bicester, and then use the route of an abandoned line to take trains on to Bletchley, where a newly-built flyover takes EWR over the West Coast Main Line. Trains would be able to join the main line at Bletchley to travel on to Milton Keynes Central, and there would also be a direct connection with the existing Bletchley to Bedford line.

Phase 3, which is still at the planning stage, would involve building a new railway east of Bedford which would go on to Cambridge. The proposed route through South Cambridgeshire is proving controversial.

Work is well under way building the Bicester-Bletchley section, and planning is also in progress for an ambitious upgrade of the Bletchley-Bedford line to improve capacity.

Bedford MP Mohammad Yasin has put down a question in the House of Commons, which asks transport secretary Grant Shapps ‘with reference to his comments in an interview with Iain Dale on LBC radio on 11 July 2022, whether he plans to cancel tranches 2 and 3 of East West Rail; and if he will make a statement’.

The Department for Transport has said only that a decision about the future of the project will be a matter for the new Prime Minister.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Yes, this seem to have been the original motivation ( a predominantly local commuter line). If we're correct on this, it makes one wonder whether some kind of tramway / "interurban" may have been more appropriate ( cheaper) in the original conception.

  • Andrew, Ely

    There is a lot of merit in these suggestions. It all depends what the purpose of the line is.

    If the fastest Oxford-Cambridge timing is the main purpose, then Bedford would have to be content with being bypassed and served by a branch (as Milton Keynes is already, without even the benefit of a north-to-east curve near Bletchley, for access towards Cambridge).

    If inter-regional links are paramount, then Peterborough becomes as desirable an objective as Cambridge, given the connections available there and the opportunity to link with major hubs at Bedford, Milton Keynes, Oxford and, ideally, Reading. In this case, additional curves near Manton and Bletchley would be essential.

    The reality appears to be much more mundane. The primary purpose seems to be commuting between Oxford or Cambridge and favoured satellite locations, but minimising further pressure on radial main lines. In this case, East-West Rail is virtually self-contained, and regional and connectional links are of limited importance. It also seems doomed to merely local use if, indeed, it survives government review.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    David's idea would certainly save a huge amount of money on the Bedford (area) to Cambridge section. There would still be junctions with Midland & East Coast mainlines. Tie that in with John's idea and you could be running Oxford/Aylesbury-Bletchley-Cambridge services along with Oxford/Aylesbury-Bletchley-Bedford-Corby-Peterborough.

  • John Porter, Previously of Kettering

    I doubt that Bedford to Cambridge flows would warrant more than 2 hourly frequency. It would be better to build an East-West secondary connection at Manton creating a Bedford - Corby - Peterborough (for ECML) service calling at Wellingborough and Kettering.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Just to point out that the current infratructure Lidlington - Bedford to be retained, giving access to Bedford MR with a second , south facing terminal platform , parallel to the existing platform 1A. Constructing this need not affect the through platforms at all.

    With such two platforms, services such as ( semifasts) Bedford - Cambridge - Ipswich ( turning East at new North to East connection at Lidlington), and Bedford - Oxford - Reading, while the longer distance passenger trains to run direct between Bletchley and Cambridge

  • Jamie, Brighton

    I disagree with David and Scott. The line absolutely needs to serve Bedford Midland so as to create an interregional transport hub there. The primary advantage of rail transport is that it provides fast city centre to city centre travel. What is the point of a rail line that avoids the potential primary traffic objectives along its route? Send it via Bedford city centre and let people step off their trains and walk to their destinations and help develop Bedford further.

  • Scott Peacock, Baldock Hertfordshire

    Totally agree with David comment above , i live near Ashwell and Mordern and there plenty open fields to put the Rail line across to Bedford and Bletchley, You could bypass it through Astwick onto East Coast mainline between Hitchin and Biggleswade to Sandy, then build a flyover outside Sandy and build across onto Bedford Road, would make complete senes.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    It is probably a misstake to try and take the line through Bedford Midland Road and then via a tortuous route to Cambridge, because it is the government's requirement to serve the small towns and villages in between.

    From a benefit / cost viewpoint, it woud be more efficient to simply build a line from around Lidlington ( appx. middway between Bletchley and Bedford) across open country to around Ashwell & Morden station on the Hitchin to Cambridge line.

    This would be shorter , would bypass Bedford Midland Road, and be more useful for interregional , longer distance service. With an additional South facing bay platform (1b?) at Bedford M R , those trains that need to serve it could access it via St Johns and an additional East-to-North connection at Lidlington.