East West rail route gets a big boost from government – trains could run from Ipswich to Bristol

The East West Rail route

The East West Rail route - Credit: Archant

Hopes of building a major new rail link from East Anglia to Bristol, via Oxford, creating an “arc of prosperity” around London, have received a major boost.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said East West Rail, the group set up to develop a new line from Cambridge to Oxford, would build the track and run the trains – effectively by-passing Network Rail.

Ipswich MP and cabinet office minister Ben Gummer said this should speed up plans to build a vital new section of track.

The line from Cambridge to Oxford was closed by Dr Beeching in the 1960s – although much of the route survived as branch lines or freight routes.

The line from Oxford to Bedford through Bletchley (part of Milton Keynes) is currently being upgraded – and should be completed by 2024.

This will cut the journey time for Oxford to Bedford from two-and-a-half hours to 61 minutes.

The track between Bedford and Cambridge was lifted in the 1960s and part of the original line has since been redeveloped. Surveyors are currently trying to establish a new route for a line – but there is no timescale for that.

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Mr Gummer said: “The problem has been that Network Rail never seems to have regarded this as a priority. They have done all they can to slow things down without actually pulling the plug on it!

“That is why it is so important that we have a new company to build the track and then run the trains.”

He hopes that the opening of the route will create long-distance travel opportunities.

He said: “We could have trains running from Ipswich and Norwich through Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford to Bristol. It would create an arc of prosperity around London.

“They would be express trains like the cross-country services that already exist.”

Once completed the Cambridge-Oxford link will be electric and will link into new electric track that should be installed south of Oxford by 2024.

New trains being introduced from 2018 will be “hybrid” powered by either electricity from overhead wires or diesel motors – so it would be possible to run direct from Ipswich and Norwich.