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?

WOT was that about?

Summing up the WOT “Unblocking the A40” Seminar, 10 November, Oxford

If you have been following our campaign you couldn’t have missed the seminar we organised a couple of weeks ago in Oxford.  Before, during and after the event we received a number of questions and we thought it would be useful to address some of these issues in a Q&A format (the questions have been re-edited as several were similar):

Why did you organise this event in Oxford and not in Witney?

Two fundamental reasons.  The first is that traffic alongside the A40 is both ways and it affects people in Oxford too.  The second is eminently practical.  We had speakers and guests travelling by train and there was simply no way they could have come to a public venue on time in Witney.  Those who commute from Oxford to Witney daily will know what we are talking about.  There was nothing more complex or sinister in the decision and the majority of our regular meetings are held in the Carterton/Witney/Eynsham areas.

How did you select the speakers?

We wanted to bring in a range of expertise and visions.  Ray provided the urban planner expertise, as well as his own joined up vision of a regional approach that might even go beyond our local stretch of the A40.  Roger came from one of our funders, Railfuture, to offer us his own perception of how these things work in terms of looking at strategic partnerships, as well as looking at opportunities in view of recent legislative changes.  Finally we couldn’t have wished for a better overall public transport expert with Stephen from CBT (Campaign for Better Transport) and his huge knowledge of these matters not only at local but also international level.

What did you want to achieve?

In a year which has seen fundamental shifts in this country’s political and economic landscape you could forgive our key stakeholders for taking their eyes off the ball, with the risk that more time would be wasted before anything was done to alleviate the situation.  A public meeting was our way of telling them that we are very much in the business of ensuring this problem should continue to be a top priority.  Furthermore, we also wanted to demonstrate that what we had brought to the table on previous occasions and in several semi-private meetings at council and district level was also backed by the public and by even more experts.   Lastly, we simply need the support of as many people and local organisations as possible to achieve our objectives.  It would have been unrealistic to have set more specific goals, like expecting to have total agreement for a specific solution.  The debate itself demonstrated the variety of interests and approaches.

Are the presentations available?

Yes, just go on the Past Events page and you will be able to download a PDF of each of the two presentations (there were no Powerpoint slides from Roger).

What are you planning to do next?

We are planning to organise a summit of all local parish councils in the new year during which we will discuss more specific details of our approach as well as exchanging information on some highly technical issues related to the proposed short term improvements to the A40

Do you favour a specific solution?

Many of us see a public transport option (rail or similar) as the best possible alternative.  We are not naturally opposed to the dualling of the A40, but we simply do not think that this alone could possibly provide a solution.  The travel pattern in our District is just too complex and, just as a mere example, even 15 years ago the County council wanted to dual the A40 *and* create a parallel public transport link all the way from Witney to Oxford.  If there was such need back then we could easily argue this is even more urgent now.  

Right now our main concern is that any land where the old rail link was sited is safeguarded.  Once the land is built up it would be much more difficult to reclaim it.   So it must be protected together with its essential infrastructure such as bridges and so on.

Why public transport?

There are two good reasons.  The first is strategic. You can’t just rely on a simple transport mode.  You couldn’t have just a few roads going from Bristol to London and no other form of transport. It would have engendered chaos and stifled economic growth.  So we need an alternative.  Public transport of the right kind, where vehicles follow their own independent tracks, is reliable by definition as a customer can plan a journey and reach their destinations within set times.  Everyone who uses trains, metros or the London river boats know this. You know the time your service will pass by your stop and when you will reach your destination.

Do you have any documentation?

We have amassed a very large library of documents, from the original Mott Macdonald report to more recent ones and more. Just drop us a line for information.

Are your regular meeting public?

Yes. We meet at least monthly and mainly at Freeland Parish Hall.  We publish the meeting dates on Facebook and on our website.  Everyone is welcome to attend.

How can we get in touch?

Easy.  Just drop us a line or follow us on our social media channels.

A journey to better transport

The editor of the Oxford Mail has recently added his voice to the chorus of concern on local transport when it was reported that the previous day it had taken commuters over three hours to reach Oxford from Witney.

For those who are commuting daily on that route the misery has only exacerbated due to a combination of crumbling infrastructure, roadworks around Oxford and simply increased traffic.  Matters will not improve substantially either by simply extending a junction or adding a new lane here and there.  Oxfordshire, and West Oxfordshire in particular, has been starved of real investments for far too long.

Council planners had identified potential problems way back in 2001, yet thirteen years later we are still waiting for a solution. It has now become an emergency.

Quick fix risk

The risk now is that officials may be tempted to rush into a quick fix, throwing a few millions here and there, not enough for a well planned long term solution, but just sufficient for palliative measures.  We cannot afford to go down that road.  We don’t need a sticky plaster, but a robust and future proof transport infrastructure project.

While we have always advocated an agnostic approach to transport modes we cannot remain silent when we see that things are heading in the wrong direction.  There are non negotiable elements to any transport plans for our region and these are:

  • Reliability and proven track record
  • Sustainability
  • Integration with other transport modes
  • Low visual impact
  • Proven ROI over a medium/long term period

The next few months will be crucial.  Expect a flurry of interest especially as we approach general elections.  Expect some harebrained proposals too, as the smell of big money will inevitably attract unscrupulous entrepreneurs.  If you feel strongly about what we stand for join us so that we can have an even louder voice on the decision making process.