'A landmark moment': Consortium delight as ‘central section’ route is announced

The chairman of the East West Rail Consortium has hailed today’s announcement on the preferred route between Bedford and Cambridge as a ‘landmark moment’ in the scheme’s history.

Cllr Mark Shaw said that the work of the Consortium – a grouping of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships which was founded in 1995 and produced the scheme’s original business case – would continue to ensure East West Rail’s full potential is realised.

Following last year’s public consultation, ‘Route E’ (“Bedford Midland – south of St Neots/ Tempsford area – Cambourne – Cambridge”) has been selected by the East West Railway Company as the route of the scheme’s ‘central section’, which connects to the ‘western section’ between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes, and the ‘eastern section’ into Suffolk and Norfolk.

Cllr Shaw said: “The Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge has always been the most challenging part of planning East West Rail, given that – unlike the section west of Bedford – it requires a completely new route.

“Therefore I’m delighted that the East West Railway Company has today announced its preferred route. It is a landmark moment in the scheme’s history.  This announcement ensures the momentum established by the East West Railway Company is maintained and we will continue to work closely with them as they look to secure detailed planning consent and get trains on tracks at the earliest opportunity.”

A public inquiry into East West Rail’s Western Section was held last year and Cllr Shaw said he hoped there would be a positive announcement on the Transport and Works Act Order in the ‘very near future’, allowing Network Rail to start major construction work later this year.

“The Government’s continued support for East West Rail is particularly welcomed and reflects the importance of this project to the UK economy as a whole,” he added.

The East West Rail Consortium held a meeting of its Strategic Board today in Bedford. On the agenda were a number of items being taken forward by the Consortium in support of East West Rail.

This includes the commissioning of a high level business case in support of improving rail connectivity from Ipswich and Norwich to Oxford and beyond. When completed, the Consortium will look to work with the Department for Transport to develop the full strategic and outline business cases.

Cllr Shaw said: “The Eastern Section is an integral part of the overall scheme. The work being undertaken by the Consortium is an essential step towards securing the necessary infrastructure enhancements needed to make direct journeys across the breadth of southern England a reality.”

The Consortium is also funding an ‘options appraisal’ report into solutions to prevent excessive ‘down-time’ at the London Road level crossing in Bicester after the opening of the central section.

Cllr Shaw said: “It has been 25 years since the Consortium was founded and its strategic leadership has been pivotal in getting East West Rail to this advanced stage. As we enter the Consortium’s silver anniversary year, we’re more determined than ever to work with all our partners to ensure East West Rail’s full potential is delivered for the benefit of our residents and businesses, from East Anglia across to Oxfordshire, and beyond.”