On Thursday 25th April rail consultant Patrick O’Sullivan B.Sc (Hons), C.Eng., MICE, gave a talk on East West Rail at the AGM of the Railway Civil Engineers’ Association (RCEA) to an audience of 100 members.
The talk was introduced by Neil Gibson, Strategic Director at Buckinghamshire County Council and former chair of the East West Rail Consortium which has promoted the re-instatement of an east-west railway to link East Anglia with the Midlands and Southern England.
In his talk entitled ‘East West Rail: Against All the Odds?’ O’Sullivan explained how the Consortium of local authorities and strategic partners from business and regeneration agencies had taken the proposal from something that ‘seemed like a good idea that many believed would never happen’ through to the development of a robust business case to reconstruct part of the former Varsity Line between Bedford and Oxford, with a spur between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury.
The Department for Transport confirmed funding for the railway in July 2012 which is now included as a mandatory scheme in their High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for the spending period 2014 to 2019. The railway is also to be part-funded by local contributions from the Consortium members along the Western section of the route. Network Rail is now working towards a target date of December 2017 for the line to become operational.
O’Sullivan explained that East West Rail is ‘more than just a railway’. The Western section alone is viewed as a major driver for economic growth and is expected to boost the GDP of the region it will serve by up to £37m per year and create up to 12,000 new jobs. The ‘Benefit to Cost Ratio’ (BCR) of the scheme of 6.3 to 1 is also considered unprecedented for a new railway project, where the typical BCR may be around 2 to 1.
The project will involve upgrading existing track currently only used for freight to modern passenger standards and reconstructing track-bed that has been mothballed for some twenty years.
Plans to electrify part of the route as part of the national programme of electrification to create an ‘electric spine’ through the UK mean that the East West Rail line will be elevated from an economically-viable, sustainable regional railway to an important part of the future national rail infrastructure for passenger and freight services.
Neil Gibson, who now chairs the Project Executive Board for the Western section of East West Rail, said that this rail project is unique for having been promoted by local authorities, not the rail industry, and that the benefits it will bring to the region should not be underestimated.
It remains an aspiration of the Consortium to link Bedford and Cambridge, however, this section is more complex because some of the land along the original rail route has been sold or developed for alternative purposes the line was closed.
The evening was chaired by RCEA’s Colin Everson who said that the East West Rail project was an excellent example of partnership working to realise a shared vision.