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Aims of East West Rail

The East West Rail programme aims to re-establish a direct rail link between Oxford and Cambridge. The original ‘Varsity Line’ link between Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester and Bedford was closed to passengers in 1968, and only the Bedford to Bletchley section remains as a branch line.

The original plans for East West Rail were drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT), Network Rail and the East West Rail Alliance. In 2017 the DfT launched the East West Rail company (EWR) to oversee the project. Their role is to plan the section of East West Rail between Bletchley and Cambridge. They also oversee delivery of the section between Bicester and Bletchley – which is being delivered by the East West Rail Alliance, a consortium of Network Rail, Atkins, Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail.

EWR claim that East West Rail is a “once in a generation opportunity to connect communities between Oxford and Cambridge with jobs, education and opportunities.”

The Chancellor confirmed funding for the project when delivering his Autumn Statement on 17 November 2022:

I am happy to confirm that, as a result of the difficult decisions that we have taken today in the round, [East West Rail] will proceed. It will make an enormous difference to our country, because of the connectivity that it will provide between two of the greatest universities in the world. It is a very important step forward for the country.

Route Update announcement

Following a non-statutory consultation in 2021, in May 2023 EWR made a major route update announcement, as shown on the map below.

East West Rail proposed route, May 2023

On 5 June 2023 the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, made a written statement to Parliament regarding the EWR route announcement, and said the following proposals would be taken forward for further development:

  • confirming a preferred route alignment between Bedford and Cambridge, including new stations which would serve Tempsford and Cambourne, and a southern approach to Cambridge
  • revised service frequencies along the line of route to best meet demand
  • six-tracking of the Midland Mainline at Bedford to boost capacity and improve resilience
  • relocation of Bedford St. John’s station to better serve Bedford Hospital
  • potential level crossing changes and closures which account for increased EWR traffic but preserve public access
  • the launch of a ‘need to sell’ property support scheme to help affected homeowners.

Route concerns and electrification

EWR’s proposed route from Bedford to Cambridge, as announced in May 2023, has been controversial because of the environmental impact it may have on parts of rural North Bedfordshire. The Mayor of Bedford Brough Council, the local MP for North East Bedfordshire Richard Fuller, and local campaign groups have all called for the route to be reconsidered.

EWR have addressed some of these concerns and provided justifications for some of the specific route decisions on their route – including through a video Q+A with their Chief Executive Beth West, on their Route Update page.


There has also been concern that the East West rail line will not initially be electrified. EWR has said that this decision has been made to speed up the initial delivery of the line, and they aim for the line to be fully electrified by the time the whole route to Cambridge is completed. In March 2020, Simon Blanchflower, Chief Executive at EWR said

Local communities have told us they would like us to get on and give them the connectivity they so desperately need, and they also want us to deliver a railway that cares for the environment.  

This is why it was important for us to opt for an interim solution that will help us to accelerate delivery of this section of East West Rail while allowing us to explore in detail a wider range of green sustainable technologies.  

Our aim is to be a net zero carbon railway by the time passenger services run all the way along the East West Rail line from Oxford to Cambridge, and a short-term approach at this stage in the project is the best way to help achieve this aim.

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