East West Rail
East West Rail Company is officially launched to expedite the reconstruction of the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Line.
THE East West Railway Company was officially launched by Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling on December 14, to oversee the reconstruction and eventual operation of the former Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge.
Grayling met with EWR’s interim chairman Rob Brighouse, Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart and regional council leaders to make the announcement at Bletchley station, which will become the halfway point of the new line when it is completed in the mid-2020s.
The line is being delivered in two stages, with construction already under way to complete the western section between Oxford and Bedford. This is due to open by 2024, after the Government confirmed during the Autumn Budget in November that an estimated £1 billion worth of funding would be made available to the East West Rail Alliance (comprising Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Volker Rail and Network Rail) to restore a disused section of railway between Bicester and Bletchley ( RAIL 841).
EWR has been established to accelerate delivery of the line’s central section between Bedford and Cambridge via Sandy, which was dismantled after closure in 1967. Route decisions have yet to be taken because parts of the original alignment have since been built on, but the Government is nevertheless targeting an opening date within two years of the western section.
Grayling said: “This route should never have been closed in the first place, and it will be the biggest reopening since the Beeching era [of closures in the 1960s]. It’s great to be here to kick off the process for an organisation that will do just that.”
EWR has also been established as a vehicle to privately finance and build the central section independently of Network Rail. It will be a vertically integrated organisation responsible for operating both the train services and infrastructure ( RAIL 822).
Grayling said this decision is not intended to threaten NR’s current monopoly as the UK’s track authority with responsibility for delivering enhancements, but instead would provide a useful benchmark for the efficiency of its project delivery and cost-control. It would also be a targeted ‘testbed’ for third party finance while NR identifies further opportunities across the network.
He added: “EWR is not about fully privatising the railway, it’s about getting innovation in where there is an opportunity to generate housing development and economic growth. This is the testbed, and EWR will be taking the lead to attract private finance and provide a bit of competition to NR.
“What I expect to see when this opens is an integrated business operating services on this route and perhaps further afield. But we are not going to sell the railways - we are just finding a different way to deliver it.”
The creation of EWR forms part of an overarching highlevel vision, published by the Government alongside the
Autumn Budget, to stimulate economic and housing growth in the Oxford-Milton KeynesCambridge corridor. According to the National Infrastructure Commission, the annual economic output of the region could be up to £163bn higher by 2050 as a result of targeted infrastructure improvements, including improved rail connectivity.
Responding to the announcement, Railway Industry Association Chief Executive Darren Caplan said: “We fully support East West Rail and are excited to see the launch of the East West Railway Company to restore the rail link between two centres of innovation - Oxford and Cambridge.
“The creation of the new company also provides opportunities to secure private investment, which can enhance the balance of taxpayer and passenger funding. As informed players in the sector, rail suppliers can bring new ideas and methods to the delivery of projects such as these, ensuring they are built and maintained in the best possible way. It really is exciting news all round.”
The newly formed East West Railway Company will operate infrastructure and train services on the rebuilt Varsity Line between OxfordCambridge from the mid-2020s. This includes Swanbourne (Buckinghamshire), where the line has been disused since 1993. On...