Services on East West Rail’s western section could initially be provided by an existing operator rather than government seeking to let a franchise, England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) has claimed.
The regional transport body said there is an urgent need for clear guidance over how services will be operated as the western is due to open in the early 2020s.
The East West Rail scheme aims to re-establish a rail link between Cambridge and Oxford in a bid to improve connections between East Anglia and central, southern and western England. It is being developed in three sections: western (Oxford to Bedford and Milton Keynes to London Marylebone via Aylesbury), central (Bedford to Cambridge) and eastern (Cambridge to Norwich and Ipswich).
EEH has claimed the frequent underestimation of travel demand, cancellation of certain franchising processes and the fact the rail industry is set to undergo a fundamental review, have all meant that an arrangement with an existing operator may be best for passengers in the shorter term.
EEH’s Strategic Transport Forum chair Dave Hodgson said: “Given the scale of growth we are already experiencing across the region, it is important that its benefits are realised from the get-go, but that any operator is not bound to a flawed franchise specification which fails to maximise longer-term strategic opportunities.
“This is why using an existing operator in the shorter-term would enable the framework for any future franchise to be based on a real-world understanding of travel patterns and demand, rather than forecasts which can so often – with the benefit of hindsight – prove to be far removed from reality.
“It would also enable a future franchise to take into account work on the future of the West Coast Mainline post HS2’s opening – in particular enabling a new north-south corridor between Northampton and Old Oak Common.
“Finally, rail services could initially be incorporated within existing operations, helping to manage pressure on existing infrastructure until such time as capacity is improved.”
At its meeting in December, the EEH’s Strategic Transport Forum agreed to invite Chiltern Railways and Great Western to its January 25 meeting in order to hear their views on the process.
EEH comprises 11 local transport authorities, stretching from Swindon to Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire to Hertfordshire. It has a total population of more than 5.1million.
In September of last year, East West Railway Company strategy director Will Gallagher vowed to have trains running on the line by 2023.