THE company which will develop and operate the East West Rail Link between Oxford, Bedford and eventually Cambridge has been given a formal launch at Bletchley station on the West Coast Main Line, when it was announced that the new company will start work in April.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) described the project as ‘the perfect example of how we can revitalise the railways, grow the network and unlock jobs and housing growth’, while the interim chairman of the new company, Rob Brighouse, said: “This railway has huge potential to spread prosperity all the way along the line, making life better for those who live and work here. That’s why it’s so important to deliver it quickly and cost effectively; and that’s what the East West Railway Company has been set up to do.”
The project will be funded at least in part by the private sector, with particular focus on investment from developers who are set to build thousands of new homes along the ‘Silicon Arc’ between Oxford and Cambridge.
However, it has also been revealed that safeguarding for future electrification will only be undertaken where no substantial costs are involved.
The route has changed from being an electrified corridor for freight – part of the ‘electric spine’ envisaged in 2012 – to become a diesel operated commuter railway, at least for the foreseeable future.
Rob Brighouse told Railnews: “I’ve driven out a big chunk of the cost already and my task now is to make sure is that we continue to drive the programme. I made savings by being absolutely clear what this railway is for.
“I am not planning on making specific provision for electrification. If there are locations where it can be accommodated at a sensible price and it’s much more effective today than tomorrow then we will certainly look at that, yes.
“I will review the work that has already been done to adjust structures on the Bicester-Bletchley section. If it creates many abortive costs by cancelling that work then obviously that will inform the decision, but if the work can be done later then that's what I’ll be looking at. At the moment we are looking at a non-electrified route.”
The project will mark a step change in railway policy, because East West Rail will be integrated as a single operation and not become part of Network Rail’s estate.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling told Railnews that the project is a ‘test bed’, saying: “This is not about privatising the railway, it’s about getting innovation into the development of new rail routes.
“We have got around the country a number of places where I think there is an increasing case to bring back some of the lines which disappeared in the Beeching era, where there's an opportunity to generate new links for new housing, where there's an opportunity to improve commuter routes. We want the best, state of the art innovative approach to doing that.”
Railnews managing director Cyril Bleasdale was one of the guests at the event, because he turned the first sod on the Bletchley flyover in 1962. The viaduct over the main line at Bletchley will become a key link in the chain of East West Rail.