East West Rail could be running by 2017

Government support for plans to restore the rail link from Oxford to Milton Keynes and Bedford, with a spur to Aylesbury, has been welcomed by members of the East-West Rail Consortium.

The Consortium of local authorities and businesses has long been championing the cause of improved east-west rail links to improve transport connections and stimulate economic growth.

Tuesday’s Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne put the east-west rail link firmly in the National Infrastructure Plan, ensuring its inclusion in the Government’s rail investment programme for 2014 to 2019. It could be running by 2017.

Consortium members will meet in two weeks time to plan their next steps.

Neil Gibson, Chairman of the East-West Rail Consortium, said the partners were buoyed by the announcement. ‘The signal really has turned from red to green,’ said Neil. ‘The partners in the Consortium have invested a great deal of hard work over the past 16 years to get to where we are today. We’ve earned some time to celebrate before we press on with the challenge towards delivering this vital rail link.’

The economic effects of the new rail link could be to generate up to 12,000 jobs along the route and support around 70,000 new homes.

The Consortium project board will meet on December 13 to review the implications of Mr Osborne’s announcement. Partners want to identify the next steps they need to take to meet the conditions of Government support and to develop practical project arrangements with Network Rail and the rail industry.

As part of the National Infrastructure Plan, the £270 million east-west link has Government approval on two conditions: a sound business case, and a ‘suitable local contribution’.

The Consortium has confidence in its business case of £6 return for every £1 invested, which found support in a detailed report by the economic forecaster Oxford Economics in the summer. The report pointed to the prospect that the rail link could generate more than £38m a year for the UK economy

The Consortium will be working out what a ‘suitable local contribution’ might consist of, although it is almost certain to involve a mix of real money, contributions from the private sector, and partners’ expertise, along with savings made through collaborative working that cuts red tape.

Work on confirming the business case and developing a local contribution portfolio will aim at a deadline of Spring 2012