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Three new east-west rail arcs explored for EEH geography


26 June 2020

Network Rail is exploring the case for creating three new east-west rail arcs across central southern England, the geography of the England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) grouping of local authorities. 

The investigations are part of the ‘England’s Economic Heartland passenger rail study’ overseen by a steering group comprising representatives of the EEH, local authorities, the Government’s East West Railway Company, the Rail Delivery Group, and Network Rail.

The arcs are: 

• Northern arc: linking north Oxfordshire (Banbury) with Northampton and Peterborough 

• Central arc: linking Swindon and Reading through Oxford to Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich via Milton Keynes and Bedford. The core part of this arc is the East West Rail corridor, which the Government is supporting between Oxford and Cambridge 

• Southern arc: north of the M25, connecting the Chiltern lines with the West Anglia Main Line (London to Cambridge/Stansted) through Buckinghamshire and southern Hertfordshire.

In all, the first phase of the study has identified ten corridors  for in-depth analysis in phase two. They are a mixture of existing rail corridors where direct services are non-existent or infrequent, and corridors where there is currently no rail infrastructure to support a journey. 

The other seven corridors are: 

  • Oxfordshire to Swindon: cross-Oxfordshire links and a link between Oxford and Swindon (the infrastructure exists for a direct service but there has not been one for years)
  • Chiltern Main Line: the area covered by the two routes from London Marylebone (High Wycombe/Aylesbury), improving connectivity between intermediate stations and to Oxford, Banbury and the West Midlands 
  • East Midlands-Thames Valley: linking Old Oak Common in west London through the Chilterns to Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, and Northampton towards the East Midlands
  • Milton Keynes and Peterborough: currently not linked by direct rail services 
  • East Hertfordshire-Cambridgeshire: improving connectivity between the towns on the West Anglia and East Coast Main Lines, such as Hertford, Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and Cambridge
  • Peterborough-Cambridge-Stansted Airport: improving upon the existing hourly service
  • Peterborough-East Midlands-West Midlands: improving upon the existing hourly service

In the second phase of the work, Network Rail will look at the monetary benefits of improving connectivity in each corridor. 

The phase one report was presented to the EEH’s strategic transport forum last week. 

Discussing the northern arc, the report says: “A rail corridor in the north of the region would make significant connectivity improvements to communities.” It would reduce reliance on travel via the West and East Midlands; provide a rail alternative to the A43; improve access to places of high population growth not on the rail network, such as Daventry; provide Corby with more journey options; and provide a route into the West Midlands via Leamington Spa, avoiding Leicester. 

“The concept of the southern arc is similar, but with the benefits of potentially relieving pressure on the orbital road network in this area, most notably the M25 and A414, promoting modal shift and decarbonisation,” says the report. “Linking the radial main lines at this point creates the potential for a London orbital route.” 

On connecting Milton Keynes and Peterborough, the report says this could be a direct service “facilitated by running a service via East West Rail rather than needing a completely new railway”. 

Discussing the relationship between the rail study and the EEH’s own connectivity studies (see below), EEH officer Anthony Swift told the strategic transport forum: “The majority of corridors identified in the passenger rail study are within the same corridors as those identified and prioritised for a connectivity study. In these situations we will align activity on rail with the work to be taken forward as a connectivity study, thereby ensuring a truly multi-modal approach. Where passenger rail corridors are not obviously linked to a connectivity study, further economic analysis will be undertaken separately to understand the value of improving connections along those corridors.” 

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