The East-West rail link, sometimes known as the Varsity Line, between Oxford and Cambridge is a major UK railway infrastructure project with delivery set for 2030. Bidwells looks at the timeline for completion of this key development.
Significance of the Varsity Line
The corridor of land between Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford is sometimes known as the CaMkOx Arc, an area which has the potential to become one of the UK's biggest economic centres due to its concentrated cluster of international universities, renowned start-up ecosystem and density of high-growth science and tech businesses. The Arc could support significant growth in the UK, and central to this is improved transport and housing infrastructure.
A strategic vision for the area was delivered by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to the government in November 2017. It included recommendations on transport and housing and received support in the Chancellor’s Budget speech later that month.
The NIC said in a report detailing the significance of the cluster: “The corridor connecting Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford could be the UK’s Silicon Valley – a world-renowned centre for science, technology and innovation. But its future success is not guaranteed.”
For the Arc to reach its full potential, transport and housing infrastructure must form an essential part of a wider, symbiotic strategy. Plans include completion of the Varsity Line, a new East-West Rail line that connects Cambridge and Oxford, as well as the development of an Oxford-Cambridge Expressway Road, to be completed by 2030. Simultaneously, the goal is to support the delivery of one million new homes in the corridor by 2050.
Both the Varsity Line and the Expressway are major infrastructure projects which entail complex planning and construction. The revitalisation of the defunct rail network between Oxford and Cambridge is one of the biggest investments in the railways since the Victorian era and is set to be one of the most strategically important rail projects in the UK.
Varsity Line Timeline: Milestones
The Varsity Line is scheduled to be released in sections and phases, with full completion currently scheduled for 2030. The overall route can be broken down into three sections, the Western, Central and Eastern sections.
This route is on the existing lines between Bedford and Oxford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury Vale. Work on phase one has been completed, and phase two is in progress.
Phase One: Completed in December 2016
- Marylebone and Oxford via Bicester: New direct services were introduced. The railway between Oxford and Bicester was doubled, and a short section of track was constructed to connect Bicester to the Chiltern mainline. Track and signalling upgrades took place and two new stations at Oxford Parkway and Bicester Village were constructed.
Phase Two: Due for completion by early 2020
- Bedford and Bicester, and Milton Keynes and Princes Risborough: Upgrade and reconstruction of existing lines.
- Bicester to Claydon Junction: Track to be doubled, with upgrades to foot and highway crossings.
- Claydon Junction to Bletchley: A mothballed section of track to be double tracked. Bletchley will see the addition of two high-level platforms and a connecting footbridge.
- Bletchley and Bedford: Alterations to foot and highway crossings.
- Aylesbury Vale Parkway Station: A connecting footbridge and two platforms to be built.
- Princes Risborough Station: Platform extension to take place.
There is already existing infrastructure between Norwich and Ipswich to Cambridge on the Eastern section. However, rail enhancement schemes are currently being reviewed to improve the performance and capacity of the route.
- Recommendations on the enhancement of the Eastern section are currently under consideration. In a study commissioned by the East West Rail Consortium, it was concluded that improvement could have a positive economic and strategic impact on the area.
The Central section will link Western and Eastern sections and connect Bedford with Cambridge.
- The preferred route will be selected and announced late in 2018
- Construction is set to start in the mid-2020’s
- The railway is expected to be operational by the early 2030’s
Read more about the Varsity Line in our latest report ‘Introducing the CaMkOx Arc’.