The preferred route for the central section of East West Rail (EWR) across the Oxford-Cambridge Arc (‘the arc’) has been announced.
Following consultation last year, the rail line is set to run from Bedford to Cambridge, serving new stations along the way.
Updated costs for the full route have not been given yet but it was reported to be priced at around £3.4bn on 2015 prices.
The East West Rail Company will now take forward work to develop more detailed route alignment proposals, before ministers make a final decision on whether to make an application for a developed consent order (DCO).
The region has been a major focus for government infrastructure investment and has been dubbed the 'UK’s own Silicon Valley'.
Minister for the future of transport George Freeman said: 'East-West Rail has the potential to improve rail links to support opportunities for new housing, reduce congestion and pollution and unlock the economic potential across the region.
'By boosting rail connectivity we can improve access to economic opportunities for people in this area, and boost the quality of life in this vital arc.'
Minister for East West Rail Paul Maynard said: 'East West Rail could help us revolutionise transport in the Oxford-Cambridge arc, increasing people’s access to job opportunities while making travel quicker, cheaper and easier.'
Following last year’s public consultation, ‘Route Option E’ (“Bedford Midland – south of St Neots/ Tempsford area – Cambourne – Cambridge”) was chosen for the scheme’s ‘central section’.
This section connects to the ‘western section’ between Oxford and Bedford, and Aylesbury to Milton Keynes, and the ‘eastern section’ into Suffolk and Norfolk.
Local organisations and authorities welcomed the announcement.
The East West Rail Consortium is a grouping of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships which has played an integral role in campaigning for East West Rail.
Chairman Cllr Mark 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.
'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.
Chair of the local sub-national transport body England’s Economic Heartland’s Strategic Transport Forum, mayor Dave Hodgson, said: 'We look forward to continuing our strong working relationship with the East West Railway Company as we work to maximise the potential of East West Rail for the region.
'This includes work to improve local connectivity to and from stations, ensuring the widest number of people and businesses can access the opportunities East West Rail unlocks. The work is driven by our ground-breaking data tools which provide us with insight on the travel behaviours of our local communities.
'Our Passenger Rail Study – commissioned in collaboration with Network Rail – will identify the opportunities for the region’s wider rail network to support economic growth to the benefit of our businesses and our communities.
'We also look forward to an announcement on the TWAO for the ‘western section’ being made as soon as possible, allowing major construction work to begin to deliver services between Oxford and Bedford, and Milton Keynes and Aylesbury.'