98% of candidates pledge to protect Witney rail route

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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.

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”.

WOT now has a second film

WOT now has a second film in its library on the need for a railway from Oxford to Witney and beyond. This one is entitled Taming the Car: Organising for Integrated Transport in West Oxfordshire. This, too, was made by 3rd Strike Films.

The film argues that integration of transport modes – and of access to them – is essential. Turning the A40 into a dual carriageway, the current strategy of Oxfordshire County Council, is not.