Green light for the Varsity Line
Relinking Oxford and Cambridge (and beyond) could radically re-energise the area
N days gone by, it was said that you could walk from Oxford to Cambridge on college land— a distance of some 67 miles as the crow flies or 82 miles by the winding A43. Journey times by whatever means were slashed in the mid 19th century with the expansion of the railways, which saw the opening of the so-called Varsity Line linking Britain’s two great university cities.
I‘line The new railway is finally taking shape
The line was built in two stages, the first by the Buckinghamshire Railway between Oxford and Bedford in 1845– 46 and the second by the Bedford and Cambridge Railway, which opened on July 7, 1862. Although not listed for closure in Dr Beeching’s report The Reshaping of British Railways (1963), by the mid 1960s, the number of passengers using the Varsity Line had fallen dramatically following the introduction of fast trains from London to Oxford and Cambridge, which made it quicker for time-pressed travellers to go via the capital. This resulted in the withdrawal, in 1967, of passenger services from the Oxford-bletchley section and all trains from the Bedford-cambridge section.
In the early 2000s, a campaign led by the East West Rail consortium, a group of dynamic local authorities in the region, began to gain ground in its efforts to reopen the line, with the grand objective of providing a fast and reliable rail service connecting East Anglia with central, southern and western England. The project was broken down into three main areas: the Western Section, whose remit is to improve services between Oxford and Bedford; the Eastern Section, which will consider services to the east of Cambridge; and the Central Section, which will deliver a new rail line between Bedford and Cambridge and interface with the Western Section to deliver the ‘holy grail’: Varsity Line Mk II.
The corridor linking Bedford to Cambridge, via Sandy, has been identified by East West Rail, Network Rail and the Department for Transport as the preferred route for the new Central Section.
Government backing for £110 million of funding for an east-west rail link between Oxford and Cambridge—as part of a total commitment of £1.3 billion for national infrastructure projects— was confirmed by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his Autumn Statement and enthusiastically received, not only by the East West Rail consortium and its industry partners, but also by leading experts in planning and residential development, who warn that builders are unlikely to sign off on much-needed housing projects until they can see the new railway finally taking shape.
A landmark country house: North Aston Manor, near Deddington, Oxfordshire. £8.75m Bedford