Bletchley to Bedford
East West Rail (EWR) is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to connect people in the towns and villages between Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge with the region’s main centres of employment and cultural heritage. It will bring a wealth of benefits to the region by cutting travel times, easing congestion on local roads and bringing more jobs within reach of local people.
This section of East West Rail involves refurbishing existing lines from Bletchley to Bedford along with major upgrades to Bedford’s railway stations. We’ve been looking at ways to improve services while minimising disruption for local communities.
After sharing our latest proposals in our 2023 route update announcement, we’re developing our design based on feedback from the 2021 public consultation as well as continuing environmental, economic and technical studies.
Two modern and accessible stations for Bedford
Including a brand new station for Bedford Hospital replacing the existing St Johns station, and a multi-million pound make-over of the Bedford station.
Trains every 20 minutes on the Marston Vale Line (MVL)
We’ve looked again at potential passenger numbers and think that three trains per hour would meet the needs of local communities, whilst reducing disruption and costs.
Line speeds capped at below 100mph
Capping the line speed below the 100mph originally proposed, but above the current speed of 60mph, would reduce disruption in residential areas but still provide a faster service than currently available.
Retaining some level crossings
Changes in service frequency and the lower line speed mean that some level crossings could still meet the appropriate safety standards and could be retained – one of the many ways to maintain connectivity between communities.
Stations on the MVL
We’re continuing to identify where new stations would be of most benefit to communities, and what enhancements any existing stations might require to provide an appropriate level of service.
Improvements to the track
We’ve reviewed the extent of work required to the existing track and the second track at Fenny Stratford will need to be reinstated, along with a passing loop, for which the exact location has yet to be identified.
Why are we proposing this work?
East West Rail represents a once in a generation opportunity to provide a reliable, frequent train service for communities between Bletchley and Bedford, along the Marston Vale Line. But it isn’t possible to introduce a fast, reliable and frequent service between Oxford and Cambridge without making a significant investment in the Marston Vale Line.
The current infrastructure has not had significant upgrades for decades, which has affected reliability. The current passenger service has been suspended since December 2022. The communities it serves have grown considerably over time and lack the reliable connections they need to centres of education and employment in Bedford, Milton Keynes and beyond.
We’ve looked further at the potential number of passengers that could use stations on the MVL and we believe that three trains per hour (tph) would meet this need, rather than the four to five trains per hour that we set out previously.
Running trains every 20 minutes on Marston Vale Line allows us to maintain the benefits of EWR and requires less construction work to upgrade the line. This will reduce disruption to local communities and passengers, as well as cut costs – and will mean a three-fold increase in services per hour on the MVL.
We’ve also investigated whether providing new stations would deliver the most benefit to local communities and the region and have sought to understand where enhancements to existing stations would be needed to meet safety standards and provide a sufficient level of service. We’re continuing to work with local stakeholders to help us identify the best solution for communities along this section of the route, which we’ll present at the statutory consultation.
At the 2021 consultation we explained that we were considering a range of further improvements to Bletchley station. For example, altering or replacing the current footbridge, enlarging the car park and creating a new eastern entrance. We continue to review opportunities for further improvements and we’re working closely with Milton Keynes Council and Network Rail to support the development of a vision and masterplan for the area, including a potential eastern entrance to the station, which could be transformational for Bletchley. We’ll need to consider the funding implications for such an option. We also remain committed to working with the local authority and other local stakeholders to improve connectivity between the existing station and the surrounding area.
We’ve undertaken work that has allowed us to reconsider the speed EWR trains would travel on this section of the route. Currently the line speed on the MVL is 60mph. We originally intended to increase this to up to 100mph to improve journey times but as the line speed increases so does the level of engineering work needed to achieve it.
We’re now suggesting capping the line speed below the 100mph originally proposed, but above the current speed of 60mph. This would reduce disruption in residential areas, but still provide a faster service than currently available.
Our updated view on service frequency and lowering the line speed means that some level crossings – for example at Woburn Sands and Lidlington – could still meet the appropriate safety standards and so could be retained. This would be one of the many ways to maintain local connectivity across and between communities.
Each level crossing will be subject to further design development, risk assessment and traffic assessment, together with detailed consideration of any diversion routes where closure remains a possibility. More information on our plans for the level crossings on the MVL will be presented at the statutory consultation.
Our work has found that we would no longer need to lift and relay track over the full length of the MVL but could ensure the suitability of the line through targeted repairs and enhancements. We’ve identified that we would need to reinstate the second track alongside the section of single-track railway at Fenny Stratford, east of Bletchley, to increase capacity and allow for the additional EWR services. We also identified the need for a passing loop and we are doing further work to assess where this should be located.
Bedford station is already an important transport hub for the region, providing a gateway into the town centre and easy connections to other services. Introducing EWR services would strengthen the hub and support local aspirations for more jobs, prosperity and growth.
EWR would bring two modern and accessible stations for Bedford including a brand new station for Bedford Hospital between Ampthill Road and Cauldwell Street. This would replace the existing Bedford St Johns station, providing a better location that’s more convenient for patients, hospital staff and visitors.
Already an important transport hub in the region, a multi-million pound make-over of the Bedford station would contribute to the regeneration of the area immediately around the station, as well as the centre of Bedford.
Following consultation feedback, we looked again at serving central Bedford alongside alternative alignments that pass to the south of the town or re-use parts of the former alignment of the closed Varsity Line. We looked in detail at the two most promising alignments, however both would have significant environmental impacts and require land to be taken from parks and other green spaces. This includes increased flood risk, as the Varsity Line is in the flood plain of the River Great Ouse. Embankments here could increase the risk of flooding in Bedford and would require viaducts to be built high above the flood plain, including in Priory Country Park, which has protected status. You can read more about this here.
Bypassing Bedford town centre using alternative routes would also reduce the opportunity to interchange with Thameslink or East Midlands Railway services, reducing access to destinations further afield.
What's next for this section?
We’ll provide further details of our developed proposals for how East West Rail will serve Bletchley to Bedford at the statutory consultation which we expect to take place in the first half of 2024.
How will services be delivered?
We’ve designed the delivery of the East West Rail project with the community in mind. Ensuring minimal disruption, while making sure the services are reliable from the start. All to provide the best value for the taxpayer.
To achieve this, we will be introducing services in three "connection stages", with the first services between Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes expected to start running around 2025. To learn more, watch our helpful video below.Watch
Key Documents & Assets
2021 Consultation Maps: Bletchley, the Marston Vale Line and Bedford
2021 Consultation Document: Bletchley and the Marston Vale Line
2021 Consultation Document: Bedford
Route Update Report
Economic and Technical Report
Consultation Feedback Report
Need to Sell Property Scheme Guide
Connecting with Bedford factsheet
Marston Vale Line factsheet
Map: Approach to Bedford, Bedford St Johns & Bedford Station
Map: Route from Bletchley to Bedford
Map: Potential locations for Bedford St Johns station
Map: PDF Varsity Hybrid alignments – Environmental risks/constraints
Whether you’d like to share your ideas about East West Rail, ask a question, or just find out more information, we’d love to hear from you through our dedicated Community Hub.Learn more