We welcomed Stephen Barker (on his fourth visit to the Milton Keynes Branch) and Stuart Edwards (his first) from the East West Rail Company to update us on progress with this exciting local project. The railway under construction is intended to eventually once again link Oxford and Cambridge directly, serving Bletchley and the existing Marston Vale line to Bedford.
The project is divided into connection stages, the first of which Connection Stage 1 (CS1) is focused on Oxford to Milton Keynes. CS2 is for Bletchley to Bedford and CS3 concerns Bedford to Cambridge which will be a new alignment. Stephen explained that the aims of East West Rail are to make it cheaper and quicker to get around, delivering a net zero carbon railway that encourages new businesses to the arc served by the line, and housing developments providing affordable accommodation for employees.
Stephen explained that the customer is the centre of the project with a focus on making the journey experience simple and easy to understand. East West Rail aims to offer an easy to use, reliable and seamless journey for its customers from journey’s beginning to end. This will involve designing stations that are attractive places that people want to use with integration into other public transport, and the provision of cycling and walking routes.
The most visible sign of construction locally has been the rebuilding of the railway flyover at Bletchley and the construction of new high level platforms. The flyover was a particular challenge with some parts in poor condition necessitating rebuilding of the central section that spans the West Coast Main Line. That this was achieved with minimal disruption to the mainline is remarkable and the new structure should serve East West Rail for many decades.
Stephen concluded the evening with a lively Q&A session including a question about the Aylesbury branch. Stephen explained that logistically services to Aylesbury were a challenge due to HS2 construction works affecting the route at Claydon and difficulty finding paths between Denbigh Hall South Jn and Milton Keynes Central. Stephen said that solutions are still being explored and the right one is yet to be found.
Finally, passenger services on the East West Rail route are planned to commence in early 2025 which was welcome news to our attentive audience.