The East West Rail Consortium has completed its latest stage of development work on the western section of the project. The business case and detailed engineering design work (known as GRIP 4) is now complete and has revealed an exceptionally strong case for the project.
The GRIP 4 study has established a feasible design to support East West Rail services and also presents potential opportunities for wider use by national longer distance passenger and freight services.
The business case shows the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 5; in other words the benefits are five times higher than the costs. A BCR in this area is exceptional for railway enhancement schemes and as such this project presents a very strong economic case for implementation.
The Consortium recognises that in the shorter term there will be considerable constraints placed on funding from within the public sector. The Consortium is however continuing to work closely with Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail with a view to submitting the scheme to the DfT in the autumn which, if accepted, would place the scheme onto the DfT’s longer term programme of new and improved rail infrastructure for the period between 2014-2019.
The scheme is estimated to cost £178 million (for a core scheme) at today’s prices and whilst the business case has been developed on the basis of 100% public sector funding, if contributions from the private sector can be secured through future development within the rail corridor, the ratio of the benefits compared to the cost improves even more significantly.
Moving forward further work on the business case will continue leading up to the autumn and co-ordination with local planning authorities will look to ensure that private sector contributions are secured where appropriate. At the same time work will also be undertaken with train operators to verify and improve the operating case for East West Rail train services.
In conclusion the Consortium recognises the extent of the challenge it faces if it is to succeed in its ambition to reopen the East West Rail link.
The scheme will be competing for funds within an environment where budgets are very tight. However there is clear evidence that this project will deliver significant benefits to the economy if implemented. The added advantage that the railway is forecast to generate surplus revenue compared to the cost of operating the services will, in the Consortium’s opinion, place the project in a very favourable light, even in this current economic climate.
The Consortium’s programme has been extended during the recent development work and now includes establishing train services between Reading, Milton Keynes and Bedford via Oxford and Bicester, and between London Marylebone and Milton Keynes via High Wycombe and Aylesbury.
On the basis that a scheme is accepted for programme entry later this year, trains could be ready for service by early 2017.