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”.

A40 Election Statement Request

Today we have written to all man parties candidates.  Here is the copy of the message.  As soon as we receive a reply we’ll post it on this site – keep an eye!

 

Dear  (candidate name)

We are the Witney Oxford Transport (WOT) campaign, a cross party group set up in 2013 to address the issue of traffic alongside the A40 corridor, from Carterton and neighbouring areas into Oxford.

It will come as no surprise to you that traffic congestion on the A40 has increased over the last ten years making journeys between our district and Oxford unpredictable.  In addition, several thousand houses are planned in the area.  With Oxford acting as the main economic focus for the county and the cost of housing in that city being unaffordable to most people, it is natural to expect a substantial increase in traffic on the only main artery we have, the A40, which is already at breaking point.

We are fully aware of recent plans proposed by the County Council and the LEP to ameliorate the situation but we are of the opinion that although welcome they are insufficient to address the problem and a new more radical, sustainable and long-term vision is required instead.

We are now gathering information from all candidates in order to address these questions which are of interest to our members:

  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?
  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?
  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?
  4. How would you support the growth of areas like Carterton and Brize Norton as high-tech centres for the District?

I look forward to hearing from you and will be glad to share your views with other Witney voters through WOT (Witney Oxford Transport), the pressure group that campaigns for reliable transport from Oxford to the west of the county.

Yours sincerely

Maurizio

Maurizio Fantato FRSA FRGS

Chairman

WOT Campaign

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.

Another fudge

Fudge for car users
 
OCC’s plan is a hybrid. It proposes three miles of useful bus lane from Wolvercote to Eynsham and three miles of destructive dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green. The bus lane is £12 million; the dual carriageway is £42 million.
 
OCC tell me that dualling a road costs about twice as much per mile as adding a bus lane on each side. The huge difference is because dual carriageways are built to much more elaborate and exacting standards.
A fudge but an indigestible one…
 
Therefore OCC’s proposal is about £21 million more than building bus lanes in both directions all the way between Shores Green and Duke’s Cut.
Almost all road expansion for at least the last five or six decades has increased traffic, and a Shores Green – Eynsham dual carriageway would do exactly the same. OCC refuses to believe it. It refuses to see that more road space will attract more car use.
 
OCC’s proposal does not satisfy the motor lobby. That lobby is still calling for the whole route to be dualled. Dualling between Shores Green and Eynsham will encourage demand to dual between Eynsham and Wolvercote, which in turn would require a “tin hat” bypass through the Kidlington Gap.
 
OCC’s only environmental consideration seems to be sensitive habitats in the area of Oxford Meadows. That was why it rejects dualling east of Eynsham but wants to dual west of Eynsham.
 
CO2 reduction and overall modal shift seemed to rate low on their priorities. I have seen no evidence from OCC that its A40 scheme is radical enough to fulfil either the Climate Change Act 2008 or the UK’s COP21 commitments. Instead OCC seems to be trying to placate car-dependent West Oxfordshire voters – and Witney MP David Cameron  by giving them a big new road.
 
Poor value for bus users
 
OCC’s bus lane proposal is hamstrung by its assumption that widening the bridges over the railway and canal would be too expensive. It therefore leaves the first half mile west of Wolvercote roundabout unimproved, with no bus lanes. That means half a mile of, potentially, daily car queues in which buses would still get stuck.
 
OCC says it would try to mitigate this with bus gates. I asked her where these would be and how they would help. She said they had not decided, and could give no more details.
 

2 April 2010: Derriford Walkabout
2 April 2010: Derriford Walkabout

I am no civil engineer. But does OCC pretend that widening the bridges to extend the bus lanes another half mile would cost more than £21 million?

 
Is the proposed hybrid scheme cheaper than bus lanes all the way between Shores Green and Wolvercote roundabout, including widening the bridges? I doubt it.
 
Of course Bus Users Oxford welcomes three miles of new bus lane on the A40. Eastbound from Eynsham to Duke’s Cut had already been decided upon; what this scheme would add is a westbound bus lane from Duke’s Cut to Eynsham. But the scheme is seriously compromised by both the missing half mile between Wolvercote and Duke’s Cut and the three miles of dual carriageway between Eynsham and Shores Green.
 
OCC’s current proposal for the A40 is not the most environmental option. It is not even the most affordable option. And it is certainly not radical enough to be called a solution.
Hugh Jaeger
Director Bus Users UK

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.

Press release January 15

Imaginative ideas to reduce gridlock on A40

Witney, 16 January 2014

Local councillors and transport campaigners in Oxfordshire are backing plans for a new investigation into the growing problem of gridlock on the A40.  Bus and rail supporters have joined forces with politicians at the launch campaign of the Witney Oxford Transport (WOT) group, held in Witney on Wednesday 15 January in a packed auditorium at the High Street Methodist Church.

They’re demanding a formal assessment of alternative routes – including the possibility of re-opening a disused railway.  Witney’s growing population and the expansion of RAF Brize Norton have added pressure to the already congested A40.

The launch meeting of WOT ended with a unanimous call for a new study of the problems and possible solutions. Among the ideas being considered:

1. A Metro-style commuter train service between Cowley and Witney using existing lines and a section of disused track axed during the Beeching era of the 1960s.

2. A guided busway – a new concrete road exclusively used by buses. A similar system has recently opened in Cambridge.

3. A revolutionary “Tramtrain” service where European-style trams operate over existing and formerly abandoned rail lines.

Hugh Jaeger of the transport campaign group Bus Users UK said: “We are completely open-minded about the alternative, but one thing is absolutely certain – we can’t afford to do nothing.”

ENDS