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Chancellor's £100 m support for East West Rail project welcomed

November 23, 2016 8:43 PM

East West Rail MapWe applaud Chancellor Philip Hammond's support for the East West Rail project which he announced in today's Autumn Statement.

His pledged £100 million to ensure the project's delivery. Last year the section between Oxford and Aylesbury and Milton Keynes was pushed back until possibly the end of 2024 following a review, having originally been scheduled for completion in 2017.

We are unsure about exactly when Mr Hammond would hope to see trains running on this line, but Oxfordshire County Council deputy leader Rodney Rose said he hoped the section would be completed by 2019.

This line, which will pass through the north of our constituency, with a station at Winslow, joining up with the existing line from Aylesbury, is something we have campaigned on for the past 20 years.

It is not a party political matter, but setbacks under of the present government have been a little unfortunate, with the Oxford to Cambridge corridor such an important part of the Golden Triangle, an area of international excellence in life-science research and development. (Oxford - Cambridge is the inverted triangle's base, with the apex centring on the London universities and other knowledge centres.)

The Milton Keynes to Cambridge section of what was originally the Varsity Line, closed in the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, could still be some way off, with completion as late as the early 2030s, quite unacceptably tardy in our view, although Mr Hammond also today pledged £10 million to explore options for its reopening.

At the same time the Chancellor announced he is allocating £27 million to the proposed Oxford to Cambridge "Expressway".

Put aside the rather unfortunate associations of the name - the best-known existing "expressway" is the A38M Aston Expressway in Birmingham, which has a permanent 50 mph limit. (The Oxford - Cambridge railway would have running speeds of 100 mph, to the road's national speed limit of 70 mph, but somehow roads are deemed more worthy of the macho "express" tag.)

As a party local party we have not discussed the merits of this new road, which has appeared rather suddenly as a plan, but my opinion is that it would be a pity if it superseded the Milton Keynes to Cambridge section of the East West Rail.

Please make your own judgement on this, but I tend to agree with the Campaign for Better Transport, which says the new road would only increase traffic and that the government was "wasting too much on big road schemes."

Campaign for Better Transport said what is needed is more support for alternatives to driving, including rail and bus infrastructure.

"It's a missed opportunity to set us on a path to a low carbon future, with a focus on green growth with better and cheaper alternatives to car travel."