NETWORK Rail is investigating plans for trains to run directly from Oxfordshire to Heathrow Airport as it prepares a business case for an enhanced East West Rail link.
The proposal could see long-distance services to the airport running via Oxford and Bicester Town.
Network Rail’s senior programme manager for East West Rail, Francis McGarry, confirmed the company was investigating the possibility of providing connections to Heathrow as part of the scheme, using the planned western rail link to the airport.
Mr McGarry said: “What I will say is it’s (Heathrow) being investigated.
“The benefits are undeniable – it’s about where you stop. Everything has a business case. Heathrow might need its own case.”
Network Rail has been asked to investigate the airport link as part of its work on a business case for an enhanced role for the East West route, due to open later this decade, which could see train speeds increased from the planned 100mph to 125mph on parts of the line.
The news was welcomed by Bicester county councillor Les Sibley, who said: “I think it would be an added bonus to the overall proposals.
“It’s something that would benefit residents across Oxfordshire.”
Bicester Chamber of Commerce acting chairman Ben Jackson said: “A link direct to Heathrow should make Bicester an even more attractive place to live, work and play, thus attracting more interest from businesses seeking a well-connected location.”
Mr McGarry told Bicester town councillors a decision could be made on what will be included in the final business case by the end of the year.
He gave members of the council an update on the East West rail scheme, which will connect Oxford, Bicester Town, Milton Keynes and Bedford, with some of the services using it extending off the route to serve destinations including Reading, the East Midlands and the North of England.
He revealed the Department for Transport (DfT) had asked Network Rail to come up with costings for operation of two more services per hour each way on the route.
Mr McGarry said: “The DfT asked us to look at an enhanced service – an extra train path for a long-distance passenger service and extra freight path.
“That’s a very big thing in terms of railway.”
If approved it would mean the route could see 14 trains an hour. The current scheme allows for 12.
Mr McGarry said he would like the project tackled in three phases.
First, the completion of the current work on the Oxford-Bicester section, allowing Chiltern Railways to start its Oxford-London Marylebone service next year, then the reopening of the line from Bicester to Bletchley, at the southern end of Milton Keynes, and finally major improvements on the line from Bletchley to Bedford.
This final stage is more complex, as there are 30 bridges and level crossings to be taken into consideration, which could cost at least £1m each to modernise or replace.
The route is also expected to be equipped with overhead wires to power electric trains.