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East West Rail: Delay will damage economic growth, warns consortium

The consortium understands that there is a draft recommendation for East West Rail to be delivered in three phases, with Bedford to Oxford being rescheduled by three years for completion in 2022; Aylesbury to Milton Keynes in 2024 and enhancements to the line between Aylesbury and Princes Risborough in 2026.

Milton Keynes South MP Iain Stewart, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group for East West Rail, has already raised the issue in Parliament and is also reiterating the case for the railway with Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport.

The consortium is concerned at the effect on economic growth across Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire should the scheme be delayed.

This recommendation by Network Rail is understood to be based on both cost and deliverability issues. It has come to light shortly after a first round of public consultation by Network Rail on emerging proposals for the project, which revealed a high level of support from the public and businesses.

Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy is replanning all railway enhancements projects that were due to be delivered by March 2019, the end of the current five-year investment period. This review was requested by Mr McLoughlin as a result of escalating costs on major enhancement schemes such as the Great Western Electrification Programme.

Local authorities within the East West Rail Consortium are now seeking discussions with Network Rail and government.

Cllr Rodney Rose, chairman of the joint delivery board for East West Rail (Western Section) and deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said:  ‘We want to understand Network Rail’s position, and to stress the critical importance of East West Rail to the local and regional economy. There is real concern about the effect on economic momentum if East West Rail is not delivered on time and risk to investment in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.”

The East West Rail project is forecast to boost the economy by £73 million a year, generating £34 million in extra tax revenue for the Treasury. The consortium has called on MPs whose constituencies the line runs through to also raise the concerns with the government.

Cllr Rose said: “Before any decisions are taken, we need to ensure that the government is fully aware of potential implications that any delay could have on the economy, job creation and planned housing growth. The railway will stimulate the local economy, attract inward investment and create thousands of new employment opportunities.”

Consortium members are also developing practical solutions to reduce the cost of the scheme and to help overcome potential barriers to delivery. One counter-recommendation would be to defer proposed electrification of the Bedford- Oxford line and start passenger train services using diesel trains.

Cllr Rose said: “Government decisions on rail investments are expected to be announced in late November or early December and we will do our utmost to influence the outcome.

“This is not just about the railway, but about the real benefits that it will bring to the people in our communities.”