Green light for the Var­sity Line

Relink­ing Ox­ford and Cam­bridge (and be­yond) could rad­i­cally re-en­er­gise the area

Country Life Every Week - - Property Market -

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

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