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Oxford/Milton Keynes rail link to get regional backing

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THE SOUTH East Regional Assembly is expected to back plans for a new £135M rail service linking Oxford and Milton Keynes next week.

The link, to be known as East West Rail, is being promoted by a consortium of local authorities in the South East and East Anglia that plans to revive an existing freight line abandoned in the 1990s belonging to Network Rail.

The route would run from Oxford in the west to Cambridge in the east, with an additional branch line to Aylesbury.

The first step, costing £135M, will be the restoration of the Oxford to Milton Keynes backbone. Buckinghamshire County Council senior transport policy officer Richard Wood said the link will provide critical capacity for the area. 'It is the equivalent of the M25, opening additional journey opportunities on the radius and to centres, ' he said.

The line would be then be extended to Cambridge and the Aylesbury spur reinstated. The total cost is expected to exceed original estimates of £250M.

NCE understands that a tax on development is the likely funding source.

Adrian Saunders, Oxfordshire Council's rail development officer, confirmed that much of the cash for the project would have to come from private finance. However, the council will seek funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) and is submitting the plan to the DfT in time for this summer's High Level Output Study/fiveyear plan.

Network Rail chief executive John Armitt said the business case for the route would have to be proved before Network Rail could agree to adopt it after completion.'If it [the railway] is going to come to us then we, and particularly the regulator, need to be convinced that this is a project that will create value for the railway in the future. It is not on my list of projects that I expect to see start in the next two years.' Local authorities in the area are planning for rapid growth in the next 20 years, especially in Milton Keynes, but the corridor between Oxford and Cambridge is poorly served by public transport.

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