Levelling across? Shapps announces £760m for East West Rail


Ministers have confirmed the next phase of East West Rail, which will reinstate direct services between Bicester and Bletchley for the first time since 1968, would receive £760m.

The National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS), published in November, committed to funding the project but did not give a figure.


Simon Blanchflower, chief executive officer at East West Railway Company, said: ‘We are committed to improving connectivity across the Oxford-Cambridge arc, and fully recognise our responsibility to ensure that it is delivered in a way that minimises disruption, supports the regional economy, maximises benefits and supports jobs across the region.’

East West Rail is being built in phases, and will eventually link Oxford, Bicester, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge. Phase 1 between Oxford and Bicester is already complete.

The phase of the project between Bicester and Bletchley will include a new station at Winslow, as well as enhancements to existing stations. The Department for Transport said that by 2025, two trains per hour will run between Oxford and Milton Keynes via Bletchley.

The company said it was confirming 'a phased approach to delivering the overall project, which it said will reduce disruption for local communities'.

It will now be delivered in three 'Connection Stages, 'relating directly to a full journey – not just the building of infrastructure':

  • Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes
  • Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford
  • Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge

Grant Shapps also announced £34m ‘to rapidly progress’ plans to re-open the Northumberland line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington, which closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts.

Oddly, Mr Shapps used the combined announcement to suggest the moves were part of the 'levelling up' agenda, despite the northern project receiving less than a 20th of the amount of the project in the South.

Mr Shapps said: ‘Returning these routes to their former glory, and progressing work to reopen even more lines and stations shows our commitment to levelling up journeys across the country as we build back better from the pandemic.’

The Government’s claim to be using investment to bring infrastructure in the North up to the levels seen in the South also took a blow when the NIS drew attention to the fact that a third of Highways England’s 2020-25 upgrade cash will be spent in the South East.

The cash for the Northumberland line will fund preparatory works, including land acquisition, detailed design work and early site works.

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘The Government clearly recognises the vital importance of rail in enabling a green, fair recovery.

‘Now is absolutely the time to turn around the disastrous Beeching cuts: the future of transport must be sustainable, it must be inclusive and accessible to all, and that means linking up many more communities to all of the benefits that rail brings.’


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