Central Section Overview

In parallel with the more advanced progress on the Western Section, work is continuing on the Central Section to connect Bedford with Cambridge.

This would enable train services to operate between Oxford and Cambridge and onto Norfolk and Suffolk.

The former railway between Bedford, Sandy and Cambridge was closed in the 1960s and some of the land has been sold and developed for other uses. Within the overall East West Rail project this is therefore the most difficult and costly part of the route to reinstate.

The route

In summer 2016 Network Rail announced that its preferred geographic corridor for the Central Section was via Sandy.

Network Rail is currently developing a number of possible route options within the preferred corridor, in collaboration with local authorities and rail industry stakeholders, to assess their relevant strategic and economic cases. This continues to be work in progress with no decisions yet made regarding what the preferred route may be. 

At this early stage of development, route options will not show construction ‘footprints’ or conceptual designs for infrastructure, but are solely an incremental step in the feasibility process to inform the business case analysis. In due course, the preferred route will indicate, in general terms, how the proposed new railway will link the Bedford area to Cambridge.   

The current programme would see a preferred route being selected during 2018 following a number of public consultation events which will be publicised in due course.

When will it open?

Illustrative plans show construction starting in the mid 2020s, with trains operating on the new railway by the early 2030s. This is subject to a number of constraints including there being a case for investment, a successful application for development consent powers and the availability of funding.

The scheme is also being considered as part of a wider study being undertaken by the National Infrastructure Commission on the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge corridor. 

Why Sandy?

Twenty potential corridors between Bedford and Cambridge were carefully analysed by Network Rail, with input from a very wide range of stakeholders including the local authorities which make up the East West Rail Consortium.

The corridor via Sandy offered the best value in terms of economic benefits, reduced journey time between Oxford and Cambridge, population growth and employment in the area, operating costs for new services and forecast passenger demand. Local infrastructure and the wider impacts of the railway were also considered.

Work is now continuing to identify a more detailed route within this chosen corridor, and following this work, there will be a full public consultation on the proposals.

Central Section Engineering Summary Report

Atkins Study

The corridor study followed a report by Atkins Consulting, commissioned by the Consortium, to identify where economic activity and potential growth could be supported through improvements to public rail links and train services.

Their final report, published in 2014, showed that improved rail connections and services could deliver sufficient economic benefit to justify investment. Follow the links below for details of the study concluded by Atkins Consulting.

East West Rail Central Section Conditional Outputs Statement – Executive Summary
East West Rail Central Section Conditional Outputs Statement – Final Report

Page updated July 2017