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Analysis | East West Rail slashes costs to fast forward build

East west high res overall scheme 2017 3to2

The East West Rail project has cut a third of its development and construction costs and reversed a five year delay, resulting in a planned construction start next year.

The body set up to deliver the design, construction and operation of a continuous railway link between Oxford and Cambridge now says all of the three sections of the scheme can be delivered for less than £1bn as opposed to the original £1.5bn scheme.

Plans to electrify the line have been scrapped, although provision for future electrification will be made. 

East West Rail Consortium Western Section chairman Mark Shaw says reducing the costs of Network Rail’s “gold plated” scheme was a case of looking at what it needed now and making provision for those areas which could be built upon later.

“We’ve pared it down, some stations may not be as big in their size and stature as they may have been,” he says. “We’ve taken out electrification for now but there will be passive provision left for it.

“What we wanted to do is to get people travelling on the train as quickly as possible.”

Where the route interchanges with High Speed 2 (HS2) at Calvert junction the consortium has been working with HS2 to minimise costs. Provision for upgrading the line in the future will be made with land needed for expansion and electrification bought now, rather than delaying and its value inevitably increasing due to the presence of the new line.

The land needed for the line is relatively simple as around 90% of the route is on a mothballed route which was closed at various times since the 1960s.

The line will be funded by a mix of both public and private money, recouping costs from developers set to benefit from the improved connections, institutions and potentially the train operating companies. Shaw said the split between how much would be publically and privately funded had yet to be decided as the routes for the eastern and central sections had not yet been confirmed. In the 2016 Autumn Statement, the chancellor set aside £100M of funding to accelerate the building of the western section. The consortium is now waiting on the 2017 budget to see if it will include any further funding.


Two years ago the East West railway line connecting Oxford and Cambridge took a hard blow. The line found itself hit by a swathe of government cuts across the rail industry, pushing its opening for the earliest of its sections from 2019 to 2024 and beyond.

But in December 2016, fortunes changed as transport secretary Chris Grayling announced a new approach to delivering the line.

The includes the creation of a new East West Rail organisation to deliver the design, construction and operation of the missing railway link with former managing director of Chiltern Railways Rob Brighouse as chairman.

The challenge was to come up with ways to cut cost and deliver it faster.

Under the previous Network Rail scheme the project was predicted to cost £1.5bn. After looking at the scheme, Brighouse announced the new shadow body had cut a massive £500M and it could now be delivered for just under £1bn.

The corridor links Oxford to Cambridge and is divided into three sections: the western section from Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale; the central section, which will extend the Western Section to Cambridge and, although the eastern section route has not been confirmed it will run from Cambridge to East Anglia.

It will connect two major academic hubs, act as an important commuter line from local towns into the main cities and take cars off the roads. Such is the importance and strategic necessity of the corridor, East West Rail put the cost of delaying the line at £200M per year in lost economic benefit. It is predicted around 1M new homes could be built along the line by 2050. However last year, the National Infrastructure Commission warned the success of the line was at risk without a “joined-up plan” for housing and transport connectivity.

The central section is the most complex and costly part of the route to reinstate as the former railway has been dismantled and the land disposed of.

Who’s who

The East West Rail shadow company – the company set up by transport secretary Chris Grayling to cut costs and time from the construction programme. The company is chaired by Rob Brighouse.

The East West Rail Consortium – The consortium was started in 1995 by a group of local authorities and businesses with an interest in improving access to and from East Anglia and the Milton Keynes South Midlands growth area.

The East West Rail Alliance – The group which will build the railway containing Network Rail and its private sector partners.

The three sections of the route will open in phases (see box below) although it is hoped that a transport and works act (TWA) order for the Bicester Village to Bedford section  and the Milton Keynes to Aylesbury section will be granted next year.

Shaw says with strong support from Grayling and the measures put in place, he is positive the scheme will now go ahead under its revised timetable.


Phase 1 western route: This section from Bicester Village to Oxford is now complete with passengers using the short length of the service to commute between the two areas.

Phase 2 western route: Consultations for the route have been completed this year and the section will go through a Transport Works Act (TWA) to get final planning approval next year. Once this is granted it is hoped the Bicester Village to Bedford section will open in 2022, and the Milton Keynes to Aylesbury section will open in 2024. An alliance of four equal parts between Network Rail, Atkins, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail will build East West Rail Phase 2 (EWR2).

Eastern and Central sections: Consultations to decide the two routes will open next year. It is hoped the central section will open in the early 2030s.




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