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The Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study published on the 30th of June has examined the county’s predicted job growth rate along with housing for the next 20 years and brings an industry vision for how railways can best support it.
The study by Network Rail has been commissioned and funded by the Department for Transport and Oxfordshire Growth Board, and has also been completed in collaboration with industry partners alongside the County and City Councils.
The study offers a thorough strategy for rail development, including possible future improvements which will support increased interconnectivity across the county of Oxfordshire.
The suggestions, which will be subject to funding and viable business cases, include increasing capacity through Oxford Station, reopening Cowley branch line, extra services to Hanborough, and also the additional infrastructure to give greater capacity around Didcot, such as a proposal for a new station at Wantage/Grove which would be subject to additional mainline infrastructure.
Also featured in the study is that predicted demand for train services is expected to increase by 70% in services across the county over in the medium to longer term (2028 to 2033).
Recommendations to meet this demand are also included such as improving connections between Oxfordshire’s seven growth hubs and improving city connections for Birmingham, Reading and Bristol.
These predictions were calculated pre-COVID and the impact of the pandemic on figures is still emerging, the study findings are considered critical to support the growth and connectivity required throughout the county in general over the long term.
Credit: Network Rail
Oxford stations increase in capacity is seen as a vital first step to opening up the network to further growth. In May 2021 the Department for Transport confirmed £69m funding for the next part of the Oxford Corridor Capacity Phase 2 Project which will increase capacity and journey times, it will also advance plans for a new platform and western entrance to help with an application for a funding bid later in 2021. These developments will enable more trains to serve the station and give more access to passengers.
The study’s findings have now been collated to offer an overarching industry strategy which is called ‘Oxfordshire Connect’ which will be used to determine future investment priorities and also to help find future funding through the Governments Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline and third parties. Action is already underway on identified priority projects with a focus on progressing them to the next stage of business case development.
Mike Gallop, Network Rail’s Wales and Western interim managing director, said: “Oxfordshire plays a central role in the national rail network, linking the south to the midlands for the movement of passengers and freight. This vital study maps out the county’s future to ensure the railway keeps pace with the expected growth and continues to deliver for the communities it serves.”
Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “This is an important study for mapping out the future needs of Oxfordshire’s rail network as we build back better after Covid-19.
“As new jobs are created and new houses are built, and with its central location in our nation’s rail freight lines, Oxfordshire’s railways will continue to play a key role in the wider network.
“Modernising and upgrading our vital transport links is critical to unleashing our economy and spreading opportunity.”
Councillor Duncan Enright, Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We welcome the publication of the Rail Corridor Study, which reinforces the importance of railways as a backbone for travel in Oxfordshire and beyond, with potential for future expansion to provide the transport infrastructure Oxfordshire needs to support planned growth. We already know that investment is planned and this study highlights the need for more to come, including new opportunities like passenger services on the Cowley branch line, a new station at Wantage/Grove, and potential future projects connecting communities across the County to rail services. This will help make public transport convenient, reliable, affordable and a realistic alternative to car journeys for many people – with knock on benefits for family time and household budgets, traffic jams, the environment and air quality.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “This report heralds the start of a rail renaissance for Oxford and the rest of the county. It will set our city at the heart of an enhanced network that will open up rail travel to our city centre for many more local people with the creation of the Cowley Branch Line and new stations at Begbroke and Grove. It should make the train the vehicle of choice for getting to Cambridge, Bristol, Birmingham, Heathrow or further afield. And it will also help unlock the West End of Oxford and the creation there of a new mixed housing and innovation district.”
John Czyrko, GWR’s Head of Network Strategy, said: “We’re delighted to see this study published today. With additional investment in the railway infrastructure as outlined in the report, this will pave the way to improve rail services for our customers and provide the opportunity to offer a wider range of direct, faster journeys from Oxford and stations in the County.”
Richard Allan, Managing Director of Chiltern Railways, said: “Since 2015, Chiltern Railways has led the way in supporting growth in Oxfordshire, doubling the track from Bicester to Oxford and building the new Oxford Parkway station in a £320m investment, providing fast and frequent services between Oxford and London Marylebone. We are pleased to have supported the development of this important study that clearly sets out what investment is required for the railway to continue supporting the economic success of Oxfordshire, and the wider region. This report makes clear that reopening the Cowley branch line should be a priority for investment in the next few years, and we look forward to working with our partners to make the case for continued investment in the railway to support jobs, development, and the economic recovery from Covid-19 in Oxfordshire and beyond.”
A summary of the report is available via the Network Rail website.
This article first appeared on www.railadvent.co.uk
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