A rail scheme to improve passenger rail service frequency between Ipswich/Norwich and Cambridge, and to provide a new direct rail service to Oxford, has moved a step closer with the commissioning of work to develop a business case for the Eastern Section of the East West Rail Main Line.
Consultants Steer have been appointed by the East West Rail Consortium, which has membership from local authorities across Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, to develop a business case for enhancing rail connectivity.
The business case will be used to demonstrate to the Department for Transport the economic benefit of improving the frequency of passenger rail services between Ipswich/Norwich and Cambridge (known as the Eastern Section of the East West Rail Main Line) and of providing a new direct passenger rail link from Suffolk/Norfolk to Oxford.
If the business case is successful the funding will be used to develop the next stage of the project, which is to assess the rail infrastructure requirements and develop a preferred rail infrastructure option.
The East West Main Line will run from Oxford to Ipswich/Norwich via Cambridge and comprises three sections – Eastern Section (the existing line between Ipswich/Norwich and Cambridge), Central Section (a new rail route between Cambridge and Bedfordshire) and Western Section (a new rail route between Oxford and Bedfordshire). Both the Central Section and Western Section have received funding commitments from Government to construct new rail links. Although a new rail link is not needed on the Eastern Section, it is anticipated that rail infrastructure is required to improve the frequency of passenger rail services to Cambridge and onwards to Oxford.
Chair of the East West Rail Consortium, Cllr Sue Clark, said: “Though each section of East West Rail brings with it benefits to the communities it serves, the full transformational benefit will only to be realised through the delivery of all three sections to create the East West Main Line. The commissioning of the business case marks another important milestone in making this a reality. It demonstrates the commitment and ambition of Consortium members across the whole region to ensure East West Rail is delivered in full at the earliest opportunity.”
Cllr Alexander Nicoll, Chair of East West Rail Eastern Section Group and Suffolk County Councillor and Deputy Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “Building a new railway connection would transform connectivity and journey times across our region and with the rest of the country. This would bring huge benefits to passengers and businesses, driving economic growth and creating opportunities for housing and new jobs. It will also go a long way to get people out of their cars, providing a greener more sustainable transport system.”
Cllr Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for highways, infrastructure and transport, said: “This is another step forward on the journey to a better rail service for the east. Improvements would cut out unnecessary journeys into London and in the future allow people to travel direct, right through to Oxford. I look forward to a strong business case being developed which will help secure the much needed funding to bring a welcome boost to the region.”
The development of the business case for the Eastern Section is anticipated to take six months, after which it will be submitted to the Department for Transport for consideration to fund the next stage of the rail investment process.