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‘East meets West’: Rail project connects Oxford with Bletchley for first time in 50 years

THE FINAL section of track connecting Bicester and Bletchley has been laid at a ceremony marking a key milestone in the East West Rail project.

It began with the rebuild of Bletchley flyover in 2021 and since then 66 kilometres of new track has been laid. Once up and running, the new service will provide fast sustainable transport between Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge.

East West Railway Company’s chief executive Beth West said: “This marks a significant milestone for our project and brings us another step closer to delivering a railway which will help people to access jobs, education and healthcare while making it easier to see family and friends, and travel for leisure.”

Passenger services between Oxford and Bletchley are due to begin next year.

The fully government-funded programme is being delivered by the East West Rail Alliance – a collaboration of four organisations including Network Rail, AtkinsRéalis, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail.

Key features of the first phase of the project have included:

  • Use of a New Track Construction train to install up to 85% of track.
  • 63 shifts completed with the NTC, one shift achieving 1.4km of new track in ten hours.
  • Delivering all track materials via rail rather than lorries, reducing traffic and carbon emissions.
  • 66,353 metres of track laid.
  • 99,320 railway sleepers laid.
  • 267,266 tonnes of ballast (railway stones) used.
  • 18 switches and crossings (that help trains to switch tracks).
  • 427 rails delivered by Long Welded Rail Train totalling 216 metres in length.

East West Rail Alliance is on track to hand over the project to Network Rail later in 2024, with remaining work this year including the installation of signalling, testing and the construction of Winslow station.

Rail Minister Huw Merriman (main picture) was in attendance to clip the final set of track together. He said: “Having grown up in the area, I know just how much of a boost East West Rail will bring to local people. When complete, it will serve as a catalyst for economic growth in the region, bringing communities closer to job opportunities and education while making it easier to see friends and family.

“This is a significant milestone for one of the country’s most important rail projects and part of this government’s plan to invest in rail infrastructure.”

Delivering the project has been hampered by ballast supply issues, a viaduct closure leaving much of the network unavailable and industrial action.

Network Rail’s capital delivery director Eoin O’Neill said: “The completion of the track construction is a major achievement for the EWR project as they move towards the commissioning of the new railway. The challenges faced by the EWR Alliance in reaching this project milestone were not insignificant.

“A lot of people talk about collaborative working but to me this is a tangible example of it working in practice to jointly deliver the programme.”

EWR Alliance director Mark Cuzner said: “Joining the track east to west is clearly a hugely significant milestone. It is also a hugely symbolic moment as this is the first time the railway has been connected through this area in over 50 years. With the majority of our civil and track works now complete it signifies that we are entering the final stages of the project.”

Testing and commissioning are under way with handover to Network Rail on schedule for later this year, he added.

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