Feasibility Study Funds Approved by Cabinet

You can be forgiven for thinking that we went underground over the last few months and clearly, our activities were also greatly affected by the pandemic. However, despite all the restrictions, our Chair, Charlie Maynard, continued to lobby all our local politicians relentlessly, and we finally see the fruits of our labour.

At a meeting on January 18th, Oxfordshire County Council (“OCC”) Cabinet approved funding for a feasibility study of the Oxford-Eynsham-Witney-Carterton railway line. We are immensely pleased to report that the funds were finally sanctioned by the Council’s Budget Meeting on February 8th. OCC will now fund and lead this project, conducted by an appointed consulting firm specialising in this sector.

Why is a feasibility study important?

The Department for Transport’s standard Strategic Outline Business Case approach considers the Business, Strategic, Economic, Financial and Management merits of each rail project. Without this information, DfT and the other stakeholders would not be able to reach an appropriate decision. The study would be conducted by an independent professional rail consultant and would typically be completed in three months. With that work in hand, everyone will be in a much better position to properly assess the project, the economic, social and environmental benefits it would bring, and gain a much more detailed view of the estimated costs and timeline.

WOT worked tirelessly to get to this point, funding two studies in 2021. One commissioned SLC Rail to consider route options around Eynsham, taking into account the A40 expansion programme and two significant planned developments to the north and west of Eynsham. The second study was commissioned by WOT with E-Rail to explore how Land Value Capture funding could be applied to this project, along similar lines to what E-Rail achieved on the Northumberland Line. These studies were shared with OCC personnel and helped provide them with essential background information to consider funding the Feasibility Study in question. All the analyses were funded thanks to some generous personal donations to WOT. Our reserves are generally in the hundreds rather than thousand pounds, and we are operating with a minimal number of volunteers.

Where do we go from here?

During our consultations, we were given added determination by the extreme local popularity of our proposal. A survey indicated that 97% of respondents supported completing a feasibility study. Obviously, so many residents feel that a rail link between Carterton and Oxford would help relieve the dreadful congestion on the A40, reducing pollution, including CO2 emissions and opening up many other opportunities.

The feasibility study is now a big step ahead as it will provide hard evidence to all parties, to be used to determine the way forward.

Eventually, a rail link from Witney to Oxford could take just 16 minutes. A modern and forward-looking proposal like ours would see the creation of multimodal hubs, integrating effectively with other transport modes like bicycles, local buses and more. WOT’s vision is to deliver a fast, sustainable and reliable transport solution to West Oxfordshire, which helps the District economically, socially and environmentally.

Would you share this vision with us?

98% of candidates pledge to protect Witney rail route

Please scroll down for more details

The planned A40 works through Eynsham will block off the best, and possibly the only viable rail route to Witney and Carterton – if the works proceed as proposed.

The Preliminary Planning phase started last month and runs to August. It is critical that this phase makes provision for a future rail route.

The May 6th local elections will be held in two weeks’ time. WOT has approached local candidates asking them to pledge to preserve a rail link with a simple question: “do you support defining and protecting a rail route as an integral part of the planned A40 Works project and will you vote in support of this at Council meetings?” 

So far, 83 candidates have pledged their support and only 3 candidates oppose. For full details of candidates’ views, please see below.

We are very pleased to have such overwhelming support from candidates across all political parties. This reflects both WOT Group’s cross-party background and our ongoing survey of West Oxfordshire residents which found that 97% of 864 respondents support exploring the potential of restoring the railway line, with 94% stating that they are likely to use it.

We are following up with the remaining candidates and will provide further updates leading up to the elections. In the meantime you can view the results here, and below:

If you are a candidate and would like to either amend the entry or contribute to it please send us the relevant information to Contact Us

Protect the rail route!

Write to your County Council election candidate – County Council Elections

As customary many organisations and community groups write to their candidates at election times to clarify their position on a specific issue. Our main concern at this present time is for the preservation of a possible rail route alongside the A40 and we are now sharing with you what we have written to them. You too can help us out by copying and pasting the body of the letter below, sending it to your local candidate!

Request to your candidate – copy as required:

WOT Group is very supportive of the A40 Works and Eynsham Park & Ride projects, with the key caveat that the projects make passive provision for a future rail route. We are therefore writing to each county and district candidate to understand whether:

“you support defining and protecting a rail route as an integral part of the planned A40 Works project and will you vote in support of this at Council meetings?” 

Without this protection it is almost certain that a future rail route will be blocked, which is clearly not in the interests of West Oxfordshire’s communities.  Please could you let us know whether you support or oppose making the above commitment. A list of the responses (Yes/No/No reply) will be made available in our website and other social media channels. 

Further background to our proposal below:

Protecting the Rail Route – the A40 Works Project and 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 into 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.

The 8.8 hectare planned Park & Ride is by far most suitable place for 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 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. The preliminary design phase for the A40 Works started in March 2021 and is due to run 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.

Local elections are on May 6th. We will be asking all county and district candidates to stand by the commitment made to in the 2015 Local Plan and to support defining and protecting a rail route as part of the A40 Works. We will shortly be publishing a list of those pledges so everyone has that information available when it comes to choosing their candidate.

Need to know who your candidate is?

Just go to Who Can I Vote For here enter your postcode to access the list of local candidates. If you still need any help please Contact Us.

Building a better-connected West Oxfordshire – a transformational project for the wider Oxford economic region

Our bid to the Restoring Your Railway Fund

Building a better-connected West Oxfordshire – a transformational project for the wider Oxford economic region.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

A rail line would link Oxford with the two largest towns in West Oxfordshire – Witney (population 28,800 in 2017) and Carterton (population 16,500 in 2017) – and with Eynsham, where the population is forecast to more than double by 2030, from 5,000 in 2017. These communities have been, and continue to be, heavily reliant on the chronically congested A40. This has been the case ever since they lost their passenger rail services in June 1962. Please see here for an indicative overview of the potential rail route.

Our core proposition would be two trains per hour at least in the weekday peak periods running between Carterton and Oxford. Refining service levels, frequencies and timetabling will be a key focus of the feasibility work, including exploring opportunities to link into the national rail network for journeys to Oxford and beyond (Banbury, Bicester, Bletchley, Cowley, Culham, Didcot, etc).

Infrastructure requirements – c.15 miles of new single track over either flat or gently undulating terrain from a new junction currently assumed to be with the Cotswold Line near Yarnton (c.4.5 miles from Oxford station), via Eynsham and Witney, to a terminus station at Carterton. The safeguarded formation should be able to accommodate future service frequency growth by allowing for selective doubling using a passing loop or loops whether between or within stations (as for example at Penryn on the Falmouth line), with this all to be refined in the feasibility work on timetabling. RAF Brize Norton is a confirmed supporter of a feasibility study covering both passenger and freight options. A substantial Park & Ride transport hub at Eynsham with 1,000 car parking spaces is currently in advanced planning stages. There is a good opportunity for this to become a multi-modal hub including a rail station. This site could also serve a parkway function for the A40, maximising line patronage and modal shift.

Our bid would fit into the Railfuture Proposal for the Oxford Metro 


Massive YES for a new rail link

The survey run in conjunction with the Witney Gazette and Witney Radio couple of weeks ago resulted in a resounding YES for a new rail link between Oxford and Witney. Here are some of the figures:

  • 97% are in support of “exploring the potential of restoring a railway line that connects the communities of Carterton, Witney and Eynsham with Oxford”.
  • 74% stated that they are “very likely” to use the new rail link, with 13% stating “likely” and 7% “somewhat likely”, a total of 95% (94.6%, pre-rounding).
  • Fast and accessible public transport was ranked as the most important issue for 44% of respondents, with this issue ranking in the top three for 85%

For more information or the full details of the survey (750 respondents) please follow this link.

Let’s work together – update from WOT Group’s Chair

Taken as a whole, Carterton, Witney and Eynsham and the surrounding villages represent one of the largest populations in the country not connected to the rail network. The poor transport links in the district generate many negatives including reduced access to employment and education; deterring employers from locating locally; slow, stressful and unpredictable journeys; and increased pollution.  We believe that a rail line would help West Oxfordshire and the county as a whole to prosper by providing a fast corridor along which people can rapidly and sustainably move, providing West Oxfordshire residents far greater access to job and education opportunities.

Given the layout of Oxford with single lane roads leading into the centre and a very congested ring road, it’s clear that the fastest way both into Oxford and around Oxford is by rail.  See here for a Google Earth presentation outlining a potential route, connecting into the Cotswold Line at Yarnton.  A restored rail line would cut journey times enormously, with trains running from Eynsham to Oxford in 9 minutes, Witney to Oxford in 16 minutes and Carterton to Oxford in 22 minutes. This would substantially reduce congestion on the A40 and take a material number of cars off the road. The rail line will also enable fast travel beyond Oxford, whether it is continuing on along the Cowley line (post conversion from freight to passenger traffic) to the business and science parks southeast of the city; or to other regional centres such as Didcot, Bicester, Bletchley; or to London, Birmingham or along the upcoming East-West Rail link to Cambridge.

Photo by Ju00c9SHOOTS on Pexels.com

Some people think that if we just stick with really bad infrastructure that we won’t get more housebuilding in the district, but that’s wrong.  As per the District’s Local Plan (see p46), the District Council has committed to building 10,450 new homes in the district between 2021 and 2031. This is at the national and county government’s command, so we are getting the houses whether we like it or not. Being realistic, 2031 will not be the end of housebuilding in the district. Importantly, this is all happening irrespective of whether a train line is built or not. Therefore we have the choice, either to stick our heads in the sand and hope it will all go away, or we can decide to take control to the maximum extent possible and create infrastructure which is fast, sustainable and serves our needs as residents. The planned bus express lanes for four miles from a park & ride at Eynsham to Wolvercote roundabout will help, but they are unlikely to make more than a minimal difference to overall journey times given they make up a small fraction of the 17 miles by road from Oxford to Carterton and that the road congestion in Oxford and Witney will be unchanged.

Many of us talk about a climate emergency. Here is an opportunity to do something about it.  Transport is the single biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in West Oxfordshire, with road transport comprising 98% of transport emissions in the District. We are advocating a clean energy solution, most likely battery powered. This is not pie in the sky, battery powered trains are in commercial production now.  The advantages of battery power include zero pollutants, zero direct CO2 emissions, no overhead wires and very quiet running.

When making decisions we need to think not just about the next three, five or ten years, but what makes sense over the next twenty, fifty or one hundred years.  We also need to go step by step.  Witney Oxford Transport Group is submitting an application to the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railways Ideas Fund by March 5th for a £50,000 grant to fund a feasibility study. To date, we have received letters of support for this bid from Witney Town Council, Carterton Town Council, Eynsham Parish Council, the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Oxford University and Grosvenor, the developer of the Eynsham Garden Village.  We’re thrilled and very grateful to have their support. However, most of all, we want to hear from everyone who lives in the district. The Witney Gazette and Witney Radio have kindly offered to run a survey this week and here is the link – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WitneyOxfordTransportGroup. The shortest version is just two questions, but if you can fill in all ten, even better.  Either way, it’s very short and we beg you both to fill it in and please circulate it as widely as possible!

One step closer…

23 January 2021 – today we received the encouraging news that the Minister for Rail, Chris Heaton-Harris, views the Witney to Oxford railway line as a suitable project for consideration by the Restoring Your Railways Ideas Fund. This fund was created for organisations like WOT, seeking to develop proposals for the restoration of long-lost railway branches. The Fund’s submission deadline is March 5, with grants of £50,000 awarded to successful applicants to help fund feasibility studies.

Mr Heaton-Harris, Minister for Rail, told reporters at the Oxford Mail that the Witney to Oxford line, long promoted as a potential commuter branch line, would be ideal for this fund.  He went on saying: “That is exactly the sort of thing we are looking at, areas where we can make a difference with not too big sums of money.”

The comment in question was made during the announcement by the Department of Transport that  750 million pounds had been allocated to complete the Oxford to Cambridge railway line (also known as the East-West line).  WOT has long campaigned for a joined-up approach to rail transport in our region.  The Carterton-Witney-Oxford rail line could eventually join the Cowley branch, scheduled for reopening as part of a more comprehensive regional commuter plan and – further on – even joining up the East-West rail.

Charlie Maynard, Chairman of WOT, said: “We are hugely encouraged by the expressions of support for our project over the last few weeks.  This endorsement is a big step forward for our campaign. Our district is much in need of a comprehensive public transport solution and this is a key step in the right direction”.

Nul points for vision

Comments from our supporter Ian Meharg on the announcement by the District Council to bid exclusively for major road improvements:

traffic jam
More jams tomorrow…

The proposal to dual some of the A40 and add a bus lane, has zero imagination or vision. This thinking is completely locked into failed 20th Century approaches and dominated by the vested interests subsidised with OUR money.

Dualling the A40 from the current end of the Witney bypass to the Eynsham roundabout with the B4449, only moves the problem 3 miles east and compresses it further into the bottleneck that OCC has designed in at the Cassington junction. The recent changes to Wolvercote and Cutteslowe roundabouts (which took 18 months to build) have had zero impact on journey times into and around Oxford – in fact, have made them worse due to unnecessary waiting at traffic lights when the roads are empty. And the problems at Cassington/Eynsham remain as they have for the last 15+ years.

Furthermore, these proposals do nothing to address the demand for road / vehicle-based journeys. You can only achieve so much simply by tinkering with available capacity. A truly integrated approach that is fit for the 21st Century and the digital age is urgently required. I have summarised such an approach which is available.

Constantly tinkering with marginal approaches will fix nothing. In fact, it will make things worse, MUCH worse. It always has and it always will.

Until and unless there is a quantum shift in thinking – in the politics, in the funding, the blinkered vision and lack of ambition in those that spend our money – we will still be having this discussion in 20 years’ time. So, either we sit back and accept it and hope that maybe, just maybe, there might be marginal improvement, or we devise a properly integrated (not merely co-located) approach to ALL forms of transport, utilising technology that may seem to some to be cutting edge now, but which will be commonplace in 2-3 years’ time (but still forward-looking), as well as tackling the ever rising demand for physical journeys. Basing a policy on what has gone 20 years ago, and expecting it to function 20 years ahead, is a monumental waste of money and a huge missed opportunity to provide Oxfordshire and the rest of the UK with an infrastructure that is even close to the quality of our European neighbours – who will soon be our competitors.

More responses to the A40 statement!

Here is the full text of the responses received – strictly in order of receipt

Green Party Candidate Claire Lasko:

“Unpredictable congestion on the A40 is strangling social and economic life in West Oxfordshire The problem will only worsen when many more houses are built here.

Dualling the A40 is not a solution. Traffic reached saturation point years ago and more road capacity instantly attracts more traffic.

A public transport solution is required, preferably a train from Carterton through Witney to Oxford. It is extraordinary that a conurbation of the size that Witney-Carterton will reach in a very few years does not have a rail link to the outside world. Until it does, the area will continue in isolation and relative decline.

It is imperative that WOT continue its invaluable work if these aims are to be met.
Best wishes”

(Green Party / on behalf of Claire Lasko 18/05/17 14:52 (email))

Robert Courts, Conservative candidate:

Thank you for your email about the A40.  I am grateful to you for raising this matter and for all the work that you do to draw attention to problems on the road.
Let me assure you that I share your frustration about the congestion on the A40, and, if I may say, also share your determination to solve this matter once and for all.
Indeed, I have brought the Transport Secretary down to Witney to see the congestion on the A40 for himself, and have also raised this issue in the House of Commons.  Should I be re-elected I will continue to lobby central government to provide the funding and expertise necessary to end the congestion on the road.
You might to be interested to know that I am currently petitioning Parliament for this very purpose. I hoping to amass as many signatories as possible to ensure the Government takes notice of the widespread discontent over the A40, and, crucially, the need to address this issue as soon as possible.  Should I be re-elected, one of the first things I will do is present the petition to Parliament.  I hope that this will bring the Government to the negotiating table so we can press for the funding and expertise necessary to provide a sustainable, long-term fix to the road.
I would invite you to sign the petition, (www.robertcourts.co.uk/a40), and would be grateful if you could encourage others to do so too.
Many thanks again and I hope we can work together on this issue in the future.
Yours sincerely,

(received by email at 16:01 Monday 22 May 2017)

PS) the Witney Gazette wrote to all the candidates and published their views here

Response from Laetisia Carter, Labour Candidate
Comment: We all know our infrastructure needs prioritising and adequate investment, and that includes transport in West Oxfordshire.

Not only will investment create local jobs during construction; it will also shape our economic future and needs careful handling!

The A40 is a vital link between jobs, hospitals and homes. It needs investment and since Labour councillors were elected to bang on about it on behalf of their neighbours we have seen some improvements. The bus lanes are very welcome but not enough.

For a sustainable future we need to build more jobs in our towns and villages. Fast broadband will help, as will a fairer economy with lending for local businesses. Let’s face it, after seven years of Tory and Lib Dem rule, any sort of regional policy and government action would be welcome! Our regional investment banks will help.

But we also need major improvements in public transport. Labour councillors have supported this, particularly buses, and would like to see light rail or similar in the district. We support a strong local plan and have criticised the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats for their ill-judged reforms to the planning system.

We are very keen on the sort of rural regeneration programme you suggest. And we are also keen to support Carterton and the base to work together to develop a science centre for the District. As Labour MP I would work with my councillor colleagues to bring jobs and homes together, with the right infrastructure.

In Chipping Norton we have very similar challenges and we need mobile connectivity (the signal is really poor!) as well as high quality jobs and better roads (with lorries out of the centre) to make our town strong again.

Time: 30/05/2017 at 22:52

Response from Liz Leffman, LibDem Candidate  (responses to our questions in Italics)

1.    Would you support the creation of an alternative transport mode, either as a light rail or similar, to serve the area in question, joining it up with the rest of the network? Yes

2.    Would you be willing to look again at the development plans for the area, lobbying for the creation of a well planned and state of art housing approach, rather than a piecemeal one as we have now?  I do not believe that under present legislation this will be possible.  Rather, I would support a review of the NPPF as a whole.  I would also support a move to require councils to plan housing and infrastructure together, instead of the piecemeal approach that we have at present.

3.    Would you be willing to consider rural regeneration plans that would create affordable and sustainable carbon neutral communities instead of conventional housing through a partnership of the private and public sectors? Yes

4.    How would you support the growth of areas like Carterton and Brize Norton as high tech centres for the District? Clearly the first step towards this is to have a transport plan for the A40, without which we will not be in a position to attract businesses to the area.

Received 1/6/2017 17:30