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Rail revival signalled with investment in Oxford station, East-West link and electrification
MAJOR improvements to Oxford’s railway station are in motion as part of “the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era”.
The Government yesterday revealed a £4.2bn investment programme for the UK’s Rail network from 2014-19, on top of £5bn already committed.
Among the proposals was funding for the enlargement of Oxford’s station and capacity improvements on the line through the city.
Network Rail spokesman Sam Kelly said the company would now work on creating detailed proposals for the station to present to the Government in January.
Last night, Oxford Civic Society chairman Peter Thompson, pictured, said: “We hope this is a unique opportunity to give Oxford a proper interchange with the correct funding.”
The civic society has championed the idea of moving the city’s station to land at Oxpens.
Mr Thompson said: “There is a requirement for a massive redevelopment of the station. Exactly how that goes ahead remains to be seen.”
In January, Oxfordshire County Council said a station revamp by 2018 was its “top priority”.
It revealed a proposal in its rail strategy to knock down the existing station, doubling the number of through-running platforms from two to four, but it said funding was an issue.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “We’re very interested to hear in detail what work the Government has in mind. It will clearly involve enlargement, with increased capacity, and it’s common knowledge that the county council has long wished to see this happen.”
Money has also been allocated to electrify the line from Oxford to Banbury and the West Midlands.
Electrification will mean trains are more reliable and cheaper to run than on diesel, as well as cutting journey times.
This scheme forms part of a plan to create an “Electric Spine” for freight trains from the North of England to Southampton docks, in conjunction with the reopening and electrification of the Oxford-Bicester-Bletchley line – known as the East West link.
This will restore connections from the county to Milton Keynes and Bedford, and is the the first step in reinstating the old Varsity line through to Cambridge.
Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement last year that the Government would back plans for the East-West scheme, subject to a strong business case.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening yesterday confirmed funding for this project, which will link into the West Coast Main Line at Bletchley and the Midland Main Line from London to the East Midlands and Sheffield at Bedford. This route will also be electrified.
Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Rail Action Committee spokesman Chris Wright said: “We have been campaigning for this for 25 years.
“And we got more than we expected with it being electrified. It means you’ll be able to get from Oxford to Milton Keynes in half-an-hour.”
Work on the line between Bicester and Milton Keynes could start as early as 2014, with trains running by 2017.
The investment programme is in addition to £5.2bn of projects the Government has already committed to, including the electrification and resignalling of the Great Western Main Line from London to Didcot, Oxford, Swindon, Bristol and Cardiff.
This scheme will also be extended beyond the Welsh capital to reach Swansea as a result of yesterday’s announcement. The branch line Henley from Twyford will also be equipped with 25,000-volt overhead power cables, spelling the end for diesel trains on Great Western services east of Reading.
The plans also bring the possibility of electric trains operating on CrossCountry passenger services from Oxford and Banbury to the South Coast, the Midlands and the North.
Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron said: “In what is the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era, this investment will mean faster journeys, more seats, better access to stations, greater freight links and a truly world-class rail network.”
But transport organisations yesterday expressed concern that the improvement programme may lead to big increases in fares to help foot the bill.
A peak day return from Oxford to London currently costs £54 and there are planned increases of inflation plus an extra three per cent scheduled for January next year and again in January 2014.
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “Pricing people off the railways will mean many passengers simply won’t be able to afford the benefits this investment will bring.”
The general secretary of the RMT transport union, Bob Crow, added: “What we need is investment in rail today, not yet another political promise of jam tomorrow.”