Five route options for the central section of the East West Rail scheme have been published as the public consultation on the next phase of the scheme opens.
The East West Rail scheme runs from Oxford to Cambridge with the central section between and Bedford and Cambridge Station.
Of the five new routes, four look to link into the existing Sandy Railway Station. Meanwhile, three routes connect with Bassingbourn to the south west of Cambridge with the remaining two linking to Cambourne west of Cambridge instead.
A connection with Sandy station would provide an opportunity to link the new line with the existing East Coast Main Line.
In three of the route options, the central section would start at a new railway station, Bedford South rather than the existing Bedford Midland station. An interchange with the Midland Main Line at Bedford is also being considered.
All five routes will approach Cambridge from the south and are expected to result in journey times of 80 minutes from Oxford to Cambridge.
Five route options for east west rail
Initial cost estimates for the different options vary from around £2bn to £3.4bn.
The consultation document said each route presented opportunities and challenges which it needed to consider to make a “balanced decision and ensure the government’s investment in East West Rail provides value for money”.
East West Rail Ltd said it had assessed the route options based on transport user benefits including improved journey times, lower fares and less road congestion; housing growth opportunities; capital and operating costs and the environmental impacts of the new line.
In the Autumn Budget last year the government announced £20M of funding for EWR Co to develop a strategic outline business case (SOBC) for the central section.
England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Transport Forum chair and mayor Dave Hodgson said: “I welcome this announcement as another significant step forward in delivering East West Rail at the earliest possible opportunity. Our communities and partners within England’s Economic Heartland will now want to look in detail at the relative merits of the route options which have been announced, including how they will support delivery of Local Plans.
“As the Sub-national Transport Body for the region, we look forward to continue engaging with the East West Railway Company as these options are developed further.”
The public consultation will run from 28 January to 11 March.
The western section of the East West Rail line is split into two phases. Phase 1 will run from Oxford to Bicester Village with phase 2 continuing on to Bedford via Bletchley.
In July last year, Network Rail submitted its final East-West Rail phase 2 proposals to the Department for Transport. If plans are approved under a Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO) Work is work is due to start on this section this year.
The route for the western section will largely follow the route of an existing mothballed line and as such will be easier to implement than the central section.
Timeline for East West Rail central section
2019: Non-statutory consultation on route options, followed by a decision on the preferred route
2020: Design of the preferred route alignment and selection of station locations
2021: Statutory consultation
2021: Development consent application submitted