Business leaders welcome plans to fast-track East West Rail’s Bedford to Oxford services

  • Construction work on the Marston Vale line between Bedford and Bletchley will be brought forward, enabling services to Oxford to begin in 2030
  • Level crossing works, track and signalling upgrades, plus safety and accessibility improvements brought forward on MVL, supported by £240m from existing funding
  • Fast-track news comes as final track laid on first EWR stage between Bicester and Bletchley

Business leaders have hailed the news that works on the Bletchley to Bedford section - the Marston Vale Line (MVL) – of East West Rail will be bought forward.

The Government reaffirmed its commitment to delivering EWR in full in the 2024 Spring Budget by announcing that £240m in existing funding would be made available to fast-track works on the MVL.

These works will enable passenger services between Oxford to Bedford (EWR Phase 2) to start by the end of the decade as a supplement to services on the first phase of the project between Oxford and Milton Keynes/Bletchley, which are due to start next year.

This investment will allow people living between Oxford and Bedford the chance to reap the benefits of EWR much sooner than originally planned. It will improve access to innovation and economic hubs in Oxford, Bedford, and Milton Keynes, boosting connectivity and unlocking productivity across the region as well as allowing better access to jobs, education, healthcare and leisure opportunities.

The accelerated works will bring forward level crossing works, track and signalling upgrades, as well as safety and accessibility improvements to allow a one train per hour service between Bletchley and Bedford.

Richard Tunnicliffe, Regional Director (East of England), Confederation of British Industry, said: “The CBI welcomes the commitment to fast-track the Bletchley to Bedford section of East West Rail. New infrastructure can bring major benefits to businesses and help fuel local economies, so it’s vital that towns like Bedford and the businesses there get the transport connections they need so they can prosper.

“East West Rail will be a key driver of economic prosperity, providing businesses with the confidence to invest in the area with the prospect of greater connectivity, giving greater accessibility to more trade and a larger labour market. This can only be a good thing for business in the region and we look forward to its many benefits”

Charlotte Horobin, CEO, Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce, said: “We welcome the news that the Government has reconfirmed its commitment to building East West Rail in full to Cambridge and are delighted that plans will be brought forward which will allow services to start running between Bletchley and Bedford much sooner.

“The East West Rail project represents a unique opportunity to drive both local and national growth. Its benefits extend far beyond transportation, promising to transform our region into a dynamic and prosperous economic hub. This is good news for businesses, commuters and everyday people looking to use East West Rail both in Cambridgeshire and across the wider region as part of their daily lives.”

Suzanna Austin, Development Manager (Beds, Cambs and Herts), Federation of Small Businesses, said: “It is good to see the next stage of East West Rail receive the green light to proceed with upgrading the existing section of line between Bletchley and Bedford. When complete this upgrade will enable faster greener connections for the many small businesses in the area, connecting key towns and cities across the wider region.”

Beth West, CEO, EWR Company, said: “This announcement is great news for people living between Bedford and Oxford as it means some work can now start earlier than planned to enable a quicker introduction of a new Oxford-Bedford service so that local communities and businesses can enjoy the benefits of EWR sooner.

“East West Rail will give people living between Oxford and Cambridge better access to jobs, education and improved healthcare, as well as to their family and friends and leisure - the things that matter in our daily lives.

“These accelerated works demonstrate Government’s ongoing commitment to the full EWR route and will allow us to progress with further work, including securing Government approval, to deliver the full Oxford to Cambridge service in parallel.”

Business leaders’ backing for the fast-tracking of works along the MVL comes after the final section of track was laid on the first stage of EWR between Bicester and Bletchley, which was marked with a ceremony last week.


Notes to Editors

• East meets West: rail project connects Oxford with Bletchley for first time in 50 years • Video of track-laying along Bicester to Bletchley stage of EWR

• The MVL runs between Bletchley and Bedford Midland Stations and forms the central part of EWR. Currently serviced by an hourly stopping service, the underlying infrastructure needs to be upgraded to enable future EWR services to run along the MVL.

• The accelerated works will bring forward level crossing works, track and signalling upgrades, as well as safety and accessibility improvements. These works have already been consented under the 2020 Transport Work Act Order (TWAO) and by using existing Permitted Development Rights.

• EWR Co is developing its proposals for the full Oxford to Cambridge route. In addition to the accelerated works, there are further interventions that will still be needed to enable running of a full EWR timetable for services between Oxford and Cambridge. EWR Co is developing its proposals for these and will submit an application to Government to secure a Development Consent Order (DCO) to build the full railway in due course. There will be statutory public consultation on this DCO application - the first stage of which is expected by summer this year.

About the East West Rail Project

The East West Rail Project is a once in a generation opportunity to connect people and businesses between Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge through a new direct rail line. It is a railway with community at its heart that will open up new journeys, cut travel times, and ease congestion on local roads. The route will connect people to the things and places that matter, bringing local benefit and sustainable growth by unlocking the social and economic potential of the area.

The East West Rail Project will be delivered in three Connection Stages:

· Connection Stage One: Oxford to Bletchley and Milton Keynes

· Connection Stage Two: Oxford to Bedford

· Connection Stage Three: Oxford to Cambridge

Network Rail was responsible for developing the first part of Connection Stage One, connecting Oxford with Bicester before the East West Rail Company (EWR co) was set up. Since 2018, EWR Co and Network Rail have partnered in a construction alliance, East West Rail Alliance, to complete Connection Stage One. EWR Co and Network Rail are acting as the Department for Transport’s joint sponsors.

EWR Co is now developing Connection Stage Two and Connection Stage Three to enable services to run to Cambridge via Bedford and plans to seek statutory powers under the Planning Act 2008, following a period of extensive consultation.

About the East West Railway Company

The East West Railway Company (EWR Co) is a non-departmental public body with limited company status set up by the Secretary of State for Transport in 2018 to deliver the East West Rail (EWR) Project.

EWR Co aims to bring fresh thinking to the Project, challenging the industry status quo, leading to more efficient and cost-effective project delivery and better outcomes for the communities in and around the Project.

The corridor, which runs from Oxford through Milton Keynes and Bedford to Cambridge, is an economic artery that makes the UK a global leader in life sciences, technology and innovation, with the potential to create jobs, drive growth and attract investment for the entire country. EWR Co’s ambition is to unlock the full potential of this region that is vital to keeping the UK globally competitive in a way that considers the environment and offers value for taxpayers.