A £130m rail link between Oxford and London Marylebone has been given approval.
The Secretary of State for Transport cleared the way for Chiltern Railways to expand its service in an announcement yesterday.
The move effectively gives thousands of Oxford commuters a second choice for travelling to London and opens up a route to High Wycombe that has been closed since the 1960s. It will involve building a connecting line in Bicester and modernising the Oxford to Bicester route. Once complete it will become the first new rail link between London and a major city in 100 years.
The scheme will see two new platforms at Oxford station and a new station built at Water Eaton park-and-ride, just outside Kidlington.
Bicester Town and Islip stations would also be rebuilt as part of the project, which will allow trains to run at up to 100mph between Oxford and Bicester on double tracks, in place of the existing single track.
Projected journey times are 66 minutes between Oxford and London, and 14 minutes from Oxford to Bicester.
That compares with the current journey time of Oxford to London Paddington of typically 55 minutes and Oxford to Bicester of 25 minutes.
There will be two trains between Oxford and London Marylebone each way every hour, in addition to the existing four.
The news was welcomed by campaigners.
Hugh Jaeger, spokesman for Thames Valley branch of Rail Future, welcomed the news and said it added pressure for Oxford to get a better railway station.
He said: “Rail Future warmly welcomes Oxford having a second route to London because this increases capacity between Oxford and London and also increases resilience. It means if there are ever problems on one London route Oxford still has another rail link.
“This will save thousands of passengers the grief of trying to get into Oxford and getting stuck in Botley Road.
“Bringing on the Evergreen 3 scheme also raises pressure for Oxford to have a better railway station.”
Work is expecting to begin early next year and the operator said trains will start running from Oxford to London Marylebone from 2015.
The announcement comes days after plans to reopen the East West Rail link from Oxford to Bedford via Bicester took a step forward.
A Joint Delivery Board has been set up to oversee the project to bring a mothballed section of track back into use.
Passenger trains would run from Reading to Bedford via Oxford, Bicester Town station and Milton Keynes, and from London Marylebone to Milton Keynes.
Oxfordshire County Council’s transport chief Rodney Rose, also deputy leader and deputy chairman of the East West Rail Delivery Board, welcomed the £130m project.
He said: “Anything along that line, including electrification, is fantastic. Another option for going to London is great, and this provides better links between Oxford and Bicester with Bicester being a major growth area in the county.”
He said eventually the East West line would also take freight trains helping to relieve pressure on the A34.
Graham Cross, business development director of Chiltern Railways, said: “We are pleased to have been granted the power to proceed with this significant railway investment, which will benefit thousands of commuters and businesses in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
“The Oxford to London link is the latest in a long line of innovative Chiltern-led projects to upgrade the rail infrastructure, fuelled by our understanding of rail’s potential to make a significant contribution to economic growth and prosperity.”
- July 2012 – Petition calling for a 40mph limit on the track through Wolvercote, signed by more than 300 residents, handed to Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood.
- May 2012 – Inquiry into the scheme is reopened to examine concerns about the impact of the scheme on bats in Wolvercot Tunnel. Residents from North Oxford raise concerns about noise and vibrations from the trains.
- November 2011 – Planning inspector withholds approval of the scheme because of the impact on bats.
- November 2010 – Inquiry into the scheme begins.
- October 2010 – Chiltern Railways submits a revised plan for a new bridge at the Langford Lane crossing as part of its £250m rail route between Oxford and London, via Bicester.
- June 2010 – Oxfordshire County Council warns it will lodge a formal objection to a plan to create a second Oxford-London railway route unless it receives assurances on a number of issues.
- January 2010 – The Department of Transport, Chiltern Railways and Network Rail agree to a £250m upgrade of the Chiltern main line
- April 2009 – Chiltern Railways advertise for firms to design and build the £200m project.
- April 2009 – Chiltern Railways launches a public consultation on proposals in Bicester.