For East West Rail to realise its full potential, direct services must extend beyond Oxford and Cambridge. Its potential should truly be ‘coast to coast’, supporting a future strategic pan-UK transport network, as outlined in the Union Connectivity Review interim report.
East of Cambridge
Delivering the Eastern Section between Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich is a fundamental part of the East West Main Line – indeed it was Ipswich Borough Council which originally founded the East West Rail Consortium in 1995. Our preliminary business case work on the Eastern Section so far has found there is a strong strategic and economic case for investment for direct services from Ipswich and Norwich to Oxford via Cambridge.
In 2020 we commissioned work to undertake an initial preliminary strategic outline business case (pre-SOBC) for the ‘Eastern Section’ from Cambridge to Ipswich and Norwich. In September 2021 our Strategic Board agreed to jointly-fund the commissioning of further evidence to inform the Pre-SOBC and the Eastern Section’s wider economic impact.
Prior to the work on the pre-SOBC, we produced the Eastern Section Prospectus which shows that a direct rail link between Ipswich, Norwich and Oxford would unlock £17.5bn for the region’s economy. The link would boost economic output and create 120,000 jobs across East Anglia, connecting high value economies in key growth locations in Suffolk and Norfolk with those in places such as Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and Oxford. The Eastern Section Rail Prospectus calls for improved journey times and service frequencies from Ipswich and Norwich to Cambridge, and direct services to Oxford. It also calls for the line to allow for a direct freight link between Felixstowe and south west England.
Our September 2021 Spending Review submission calls for government to provide revenue funding to enable the acceleration of Eastern Section work.
West of Oxford
There is potential for direct east-west services to extend as far as Cardiff, via Didcot, Swindon and Bristol. This would create a genuinely strategic route from west coast to east coast.
Key to this is unlocking capacity restraints at Oxford and Didcot.
We were one of the funding shareholders in the Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study. Published in June 2021, it identified the opportunity for long-distance services between Bristol and Cambridge via Swindon, Didcot, Oxford and Milton Keynes.
The study identifies increasing capacity at Oxford station as a vital first step to opening up the network for further growth. In May 2021, the Department for Transport confirmed £69m of funding for Phase 2 of the Oxford Corridor Capacity Improvement Scheme, which is a package of rail enhancement schemes which provide extra capacity for the rail network, plus additional facilities at the station and surrounding area. Our Spending Review submission ask for the funding required to support development of a masterplan for further service improvements linked to East West Rail, including through services to Bristol.
To further explore the potential of services to the west of Oxford, the Partnership has recently been joined by the Western Gateway sub-national transport body, which includes Wiltshire and Bristol.