Statement from East West Rail Consortium
3rd November 2015
Local authorities in the East West Rail Consortium are concerned that the project to create a new railway for services between Oxford and Bedford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes may be delayed by between three and seven years.
The Consortium understands that there is a draft recommendation for East West Rail to be delivered in three phases, with Bedford to Oxford being rescheduled for completion in 2022; Aylesbury to Milton Keynes in 2024; and enhancements to the line between Aylesbury and Princes Risborough in 2026.
This recommendation by Network Rail is understood to be based on both cost and deliverability issues. It came to light shortly after a first round of public consultation by Network Rail on emerging proposals for the project, which revealed a high level of support from the public and businesses.
Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail, is re-planning all railway enhancements projects that were due to be delivered by March 2019, the end of the current five-year investment period (known as CP5). This review was requested by the Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin, as a result of escalating costs on major enhancement schemes such as the Great Western Electrification Programme. (See News 2 July 2015)
Local authorities within the East West Rail Consortium are now seeking discussions with Sir Peter Hendy and Government.
Cllr Rodney Rose, Deputy Leader of Oxfordshire County Council and Chairman of the Joint Delivery Board for East West Rail (Western Section), said:
‘We want to understand Network Rail’s position, and to stress the critical importance of East West Rail to the local and regional economy. There is real concern about the effect on economic momentum if East West Rail isn’t delivered on time, and risk to investment in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. To this end, we have sought discussions with Sir Peter Hendy and Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne.
‘Before any decisions are taken, we need to ensure that the Government is fully aware of potential implications that any delay could have on the economy, job creation and planned housing growth. The railway is forecast to boost the economy by around £73 million a year, increasing tax revenue by £34m. It will stimulate the local economy, attract inward investment and create thousands of new employment opportunities.
‘Iain Stewart MP for Milton Keynes South, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for East West Rail, has already raised the issue in Parliament and is also reiterating the case for the railway with Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport. We have asked MPs along the line for their support in raising our concerns with Government.
‘Consortium members are also developing practical solutions to reduce the cost of the scheme and to help overcome potential barriers to delivery. One counter-recommendation would be to defer proposed electrification of the Bedford – Oxford line, and start passenger train services using diesel trains.
‘Government decisions on rail investments are expected to be announced in late November or early December, and will do our utmost to influence the outcome. This is not just about the railway, but about the real benefits that it will bring to the people in our communities.’
The East West Rail Consortium developed and promoted the business case for East West Rail, which gained Government support announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in the Autumn Statement 2011. It was subsequently included in the rail industry’s five-year investment programme in July 2012, and in Network Rail’s five-year plan published in March 2014.
The local authorities have already committed in excess of £5m towards the project, and committed a further £45m.
The first stage of East West Rail Phase One – Oxford Parkway to Bicester – opened last month (October) for Chiltern Railways new passenger service to London Marylebone via Bicester. This also includes the rail infrastructure required for East West Rail services planned to operate between Oxford, Bedford and Milton Keynes.
Local authorities in the East West Rail Consortium for the Western Section are: Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Milton Keynes Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Aylesbury Vale Distict Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council.
The three Local Enterprise Partnerships in the region – SEMLEP, OXLEP and BTVLEP – recognise East West Rail as an essential infrastructure project to support regional economic growth.