East West Rail

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 4 December 2015.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 2:43, 4 December 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Iain Stewart on securing the debate. I share his enthusiasm for east-west rail, and very much want it to become a reality.

East-west rail is a transformational project to rebuild the railway between Oxford in the west and Bedford in the east. It will also connect Aylesbury with Milton Keynes. Part of the project will use disused railway routes, and part of it will upgrade or double- track lightly used or mothballed sections of railway. It is a missing part of the railway jigsaw connecting the great western, west coast and midland main lines.

The project is being built in two parts. Phase 1, between Bicester and Oxford, is being built as I speak; phase 2, between Bicester and Bedford, is being developed. Trains operated by Chiltern Railways started running on the first part of the railway on 25 October, with two train services an hour from London Marylebone to the brand-new station at Oxford Parkway. Two stations have been completely rebuilt, at Bicester Village and Islip.

That was the first new rail link between a major British city and London in over 100 years. Together with Chiltern Railways, we have invested over £320 million in east- west rail phase 1, and in September 2016, when the infrastructure works west of Oxford Parkway have been finished, services on this route will be extended into the centre of Oxford, where it will connect with the Great Western main line.

Phase 2 of east-west rail will connect Oxford and the Great Western main line with Bletchley, the west coast main line with Aylesbury and the Chiltern main line and Bedford for the Midland main line. It will allow faster journeys between these locations than is possible by car today. It will stimulate economic development and new housing across the region. The project includes a new station at Winslow and new platforms at Bletchley.

This project is complex and challenging. In particular a lot work is needed to the structures, such as bridges, and earthworks along the route. As part of the project we expect Network Rail to do the following: build or renovate 18 bridges over the railway; modify or close over 75 level crossings; and build 22 new footbridges and subways across the railway.

The new railway will be capable of operating at 100 miles an hour. It will also be electrified, enabling faster, lighter and greener electric passenger trains to run. As well as providing a new route for passenger trains, east-west rail will provide a corridor for rail freight.

East-west rail is a challenging and ambitious project. Network Rail’s current cost estimate for phase 2 is high. We want to reduce this cost as plans mature and scope options are looked at in more detail, taking the risk out of the scheme. None the less, I would like to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to delivering east-west rail.

These are challenging times for the rail industry. In June, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced that important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme were costing more and taking longer. He announced the steps he was taking to put things right. On 25 November my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to Britain’s vital transport network as part of our wider spending plans.

Sir Peter Hendy’s report on delivering the rail investment strategy was published at the same time. The Secretary of State has accepted Sir Peter’s report, subject to a short period of consultation with stakeholders, such as the East West Rail consortium. No infrastructure schemes have been cancelled. Electrification of the TransPennine and midland main line has already resumed following a brief pause. The Government have confirmed their commitment to delivering east-west rail. Work on this has continued without interruption while Sir Peter’s review has been carried out.

We included this project in our 2012 rail investment strategy following the convincing case put forward by the East West Rail consortium of local authorities. One of the strengths of this project has been the close working relationship we have had with the consortium and the help and support it has been able to provide. I am pleased that the consortium has been able to play its part in the development of the delivery plans and welcome its continued support in the future.

Following Sir Peter’s review, funding has been identified in control period 5 to continue development of east-west rail and secure the necessary planning powers to enable the project to be completed. Network Rail is continuing to work on its plans for east-west rail phase 2. It expects to have developed a single option for the scope of east west-rail in a considerable level of detail by late 2016. When this work has been completed, we will be in possession of much better information than we have now. This will enable us to make an informed decision and set out clearly the timescales for delivering east-west rail.

As part of these next steps, I urge my hon. Friend and all the interested local partners such as the East West Rail consortium to continue to help to take the project forward. I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important topic, which I know is of considerable local interest. It is now time for Network Rail to get on with the job and to develop a detailed plan for east-west rail that we can all get behind. As I said at the start, the Government are committed to seeing east-west rail built.

This Government have prioritised infrastructure investment. A 50% uplift in investment compared with the last Parliament demonstrates that we really mean business. Projects like this are becoming a reality and contributing to the long-term economic plan that got such a resounding endorsement at this year’s general election.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.