Protecting the Rail Route – the A40 Works project and the Eynsham Park & Ride

Approximately seven miles of the A40 are set to be dualled, from Hill Farm, halfway between Witney and Eynsham, to the Wolvercote roundabout on Oxford’s ring road. The section west of Eynsham will be dual carriageway; the section east of Eynsham will also be dual carriageway, but with bus lanes running in each direction, connecting into a new Park & Ride to be built at Eynsham. The funding is in place for this and the work is due to be completed by Q3 2024. WOT Group fully supports the A40 Works and Eynsham Park & Ride projects, with the critical caveat that the Council does indeed stand by its 2015 commitment and ensure that these works do not physically block off a future railway line.

This easterly section of the Oxford-Carterton rail route is particularly important for three reasons. It is the section that connects Oxford to Witney; no railway line can reach Witney without this section being built. Secondly, it is the section most under threat, if the planned A40 Works do not protect a rail route. Finally, it is where 3,200 houses will be built in the next few years. If this railway line is built, there will be a substantial uplift in land values of these new homes, which will generate quite a windfall of the developers. We are focused on mechanisms which allow a portion of that gain, which will only occur if the railway is built, to fund the railway. In a best case scenario, that will take some of the burden off the taxpayer and will allow that first section of track to be built quicker.

Oxfordshire County Council (“OCC”) has written a letter of support for our bid to the DfT’s Restoring Your Railways Ideas Fund bid. Additionally, as per the 2015 Local Transport Plan, the Council has committed to “retain the option of a rail line to Witney as a longer term aspiration in its A40 Strategy, and will pursue opportunities to realise the aspiration”

On March 8th 2021, the Eynsham Park & Ride application was approved on the basis that the Park & Ride neither impinged nor stopped any future rail investment and that this project would be complementary to a future rail line. However, while the OCC team is in agreement that there is space within the 8.8ha Park & Ride facility for a future railway station, no plans have been made either as to how a rail station would fit in or adjacent to the future Park & Ride facility, or to define and protect a rail route along the A40 Works. This is unusual, and without doing this it is highly likely that these planned works will indeed block a future rail route. This urgently needs to be remedied.

Either inside or adjacent to the 8.8 hectare planned Park & Ride is by far most suitable place for locating a future Eynsham railway station, as: 1) it is on the A40, so can take traffic directly from the road, 2) it is located in the central point between the existing village, the 2,200 houses planned for Salt Cross Garden Village and the 1,000 houses planned in the West Eynsham development, 3) it will have up to 850 car parking spaces, and 4) county officers have confirmed that there is indeed space inside the Park & Ride for a rail station.

A rail corridor is only ten metres wide. The A40 has space, either directly to the north or south of the road along all of its length, into which expansion is possible. Around Eynsham, Grosvenor have independently kept a buffer along the southern edge of the Garden Village project for “future transport needs”. So yes, there is space into which an integrated road, rail and bike corridor can be fitted.

While we would all like the railway to be built quickly and there are clear synergies from these projects being managed together, the above issue is an entirely separate issue from when the railway will be built. It is about ensuring that a viable route is planned for, defined and protected so that a railway can be built on a cost efficient basis in the future.

It’s remarkable that the original design specifications to dual the A40 did not take the basic, prudent step of factoring in and protecting a future rail route. Let’s not now compound that error further. The preliminary design phase for the A40 Works started in March 2021 and is due to run for six months through to August 2021, when a planning application is due to be submitted. Public consultations have not yet even begun, and are planned for May and June 2021. So no, it’s not too late. And no, we can’t just let the planning roll on, excluding rail route provision for another six months and then be surprised that it really is too late.