The Varsity Line is a new East-West Rail line between Oxford and Cambridge, which is due to be completed by the year 2030. This rail link is part of a bigger transport and infrastructure initiative underway in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford (CaMkOx) corridor. Once these new train services are running, they will stop at several key stations between the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. Let’s take a more in-depth look at what commuters can expect from the new Varsity Line route.
The Varsity Line is divided into three sections. The Western Section runs from Oxford to Bedford, while the Central Section runs between Bedford and Cambridge. The Eastern Section continues past the CaMkOx corridor to the towns situated east of Cambridge.
The map below illustrates the preferred route for the Western and Central Sections.
Western Section (Oxford to Bedford)
Between the Oxford and Bedford stations, the Varsity Line will make the following stops: Oxford Parkway, Bicester Village, Calvert, Winslow, Bletchley, Marston Vale, and Wixams.
The Western Section route will run on the existing rail lines between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale.
Phase 1 of this section included upgrading the line from Oxford to Bicester Village. Phase 2 will require upgrading and rebuilding the routes from Bicester Village to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury (due to open in 2022 and 2024, respectively).
The Western Section will also provide a link between Milton Keynes and London Marylebone via Aylesbury, and services may also extend to Reading in the future via existing rail lines.
Central Section (Bedford to Cambridge)
Between the Bedford and Cambridge stations, the Varsity Line will stop at Sandy.
Network Rail carefully considered 20 different potential routes between Bedford and Cambridge before deciding that the corridor via Sandy offered the best overall value. This includes potential economic benefits, reduced journey time, local population growth and employment, operating costs, and forecast passenger demand.
The old railway line between Bedford, Sandy and Cambridge was closed in the 1960s and some of the land has since been sold and developed. This makes the Central Section the most costly and challenging part of the new Varsity Line.
Eastern Section (East of Cambridge)
The railway to the east of Cambridge is largely used by freight but also provides some passenger services, while the railway routes from Cambridge to Norwich and Ipswich have limited capacity and are potentially underused. A high-level study, commissioned by the East West Rail Consortium, has concluded that improving the infrastructure of the Eastern Section in the future would be a positive economic and strategic step.
The Importance of the New Varsity Line
The CaMkOx corridor plays a vital role in the United Kingdom’s economy. The area is home to internationally renowned universities and leading SciTech companies, which contribute substantially to the country’s economy. The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has developed a strategic vision for the growth and development of CaMkOx, which was granted support from the Government in the November 2017 Budget.
Improved transportation is central to the NIC’s plans. With the new Varsity Line connecting Oxford and Cambridge by rail, and the development of a dual carriageway (the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway) connecting them by road, students and employees in the CaMkOx corridor will have quicker, easier access to their destinations.
Housing is also a major part of the NIC’s strategy. The aim is to deliver one million new homes in the CaMkOx corridor by 2050. The housing and transport components of the plan go hand-in-hand; both are needed to help the corridor reach its full economic potential. By implementing these infrastructure improvements, the NIC aims to secure the long-term economic health of the CaMkOx arc, and by extension, the UK as a whole.
With their unique and extensive experience in the CaMkOx region, Bidwells property specialists are researching the opportunities presented by the Varsity Line and other NIC developments. You can read more in our first research paper on the subject, available here.