COUNCIL leaders have been reassured by a restated commitment to build East West Rail, in spite of concerns about Network Rail's budget and the possible impact of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement later this month. They are also hoping that details of an accelerated programme of construction will be published in the New Year.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling has told the national conference of county councils that the project is important and 'exactly the type of project that is needed to support our growth plans'.
His optimistic message has been greeted with relief by councils along the route between Oxford and Bedford.
Cllr Rodney Rose, who is deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council and chairman of the Joint Delivery Board for the project's western section, said: “East West Rail is one of the top three rail investment projects in the UK. Compared to other projects, it is relatively low cost project that will provide an exceptional return on investment and benefits to the communities it will serve. When the Consortium handed its costed Prospectus across to Government in 2011 the scheme was forecast to give back £6 for every £1 spent, and have recouped its cost within five years of operating. It’s also forecast to deliver wider economic benefit to the tune of £200 million per year.
“Last year Chiltern Railways started services from the new Oxford Parkway station to London Marylebone via Bicester Village. The service has been an extraordinary success and has already carried more than one million passengers. This service will start operating from and to Oxford city centre within a matter of weeks.
“It’s vital that momentum is maintained and we build on this success to deliver the next phase of East West Rail, from Bicester to Bedford, and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury, so that train services can provide the much-needed connectivity between these key areas of economic activity and population. This is the critical next step in re-establishing the key strategic link between Oxford and Cambridge.
“There is overwhelming support from the public, the business community and investors. We need to crack on and get it built so we can realise the opportunities it presents to boost the economy, create new jobs, support housing growth and improve the quality of life of people in the region.
“Following a period of uncertainty over delays due to pressure on the national rail budget, we’re optimistic that Government will now follow through on its commitment by making funds available for earliest possible completion. We continue to work closely with Department for Transport and Network Rail to make this happen. We look forward to having a clear, realistic and accelerated delivery programme by January.”
The Chiltern Railways service from London Marylebone is set to be extended from Oxford Parkway to the city's main station next month.