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?

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.

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”.