FAR be it from me to reinforce stereotypes, but there weren’t very many women on board the specially-chartered East West Rail information train last Friday.
The enthusiasts gathered for the rail journey hosted by the East West Rail Consortium were delightful, and almost exclusively male.
The trip, courtesy of Chiltern Railways, was partly designed to give the gentlemen (and lady) of the press a better understanding of the planned western section of the East West Rail project, which is set to be operational by 2017.
It also marked the formation of an East West Rail Joint Delivery Board, to oversee and facilitate the development of a new, electric railway line between Bedford and Oxford.
The board has been formed as a result of the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport of the government’s support for the western section of the East West Rail scheme, which also included a commitment to electrify part of the route, forming an ‘electric spine’ within the National Strategic Rail Network.
Chairman of the joint delivery board, Bucks county councillor Peter Hardy, said: “I feel today we have not just a project but something that is actually going to happen.”
The East West Rail western section will link Reading to Bedford, via Oxford, Bicester Town, a new station at Winslow and Bletchley.
It will also link up with a new service from Bicester Town to London Marylebone.
It will give Winslow residents the choice of taking an electric service to Bedford or a diesel service to Milton Keynes.
Much of the route already exists, and East West Rail will reopen 10 miles of closed railway and upgrade almost nine miles of railway to link in with the diesel lines from Aylesbury.
Our train ride gave us the opportunity to travel along a section of the single-track route between Aylesbury and Bicester that is currently only used by freight trains, but which will become an important route for passenger services within the region and as part of the National Strategic Rail Network.
East West Rail will share the same corridor with the existing line as far as Calvert, we were told.
But Patrick O’Sullivan of the East West Rail Consortium said the track will be completely replaced to make the railway twin track.
He said: “Winslow station is going to be a key hub on the network.
“I think there will be a lot of pressure from developers. This railway is going to attract a lot of what we call hostile applications.”
The highlight of the day was a precarious descent from the train down on to the track at Claydon Junction, via a Heath Robinson arrangement of steps and ramps.
Picking our way carefully down the grass bank and across the rails, we stood at the edge of the overgrown, ‘mothballed’ track that will be reinstated to form part of the East West Rail western section.
Reboarding the train, I joined a queue realising a childhood dream to mount the vertical steps up into the driver’s cab.
“I think this is the first passenger train to head that far east on the line since 1992,” said Steven Barker of Chiltern Railways, which is covering the cost of the Bicester part of the project.
Back in our seats, we had a 20-minute wait due to the vagaries of travelling on a single-track line.
A lorry had hit a railway bridge at Little Kimble, which meant that a rubbish train destined for Calvert was blocking the line at Princes Risborough. As the freight train had to be given priority, we had to wait until it had passed before we could get to Quainton Railway Centre for our lunch.
Another technical problem meant we were unable to view the site of the proposed Bicester Cord, as the control for the level crossing on the outskirts of Bicester was not working, having filled with water.
The Bicester Cord will allow trains to run from Oxford to Bicester Town and on to London Marylebone, with a Bicester to London journey time of about 40 minutes.
The level crossing will be replaced by a bridge when East West Rail is built.
“If there’s one message to come out of today, it’s that East West Rail is happening – the funding has been secured,” a spokesman for the East West Rail Consortium told the Advertiser and Review.
“The business case for this railway is unprecedented in terms of benefits against cost.
“The business case just as a local transport scheme is really strong, and it’s going to be even stronger with the electrification and the links this will create to the national networks.”
Mr Hardy said: “Local authorities along this route formed the East West Rail Consortium in 1995, with a shared aim to introduce high-quality train services to link centres of economic activity and to support economic development in the region.
“We are therefore delighted this scheme is now going ahead.
“The economic, social and environmental benefits of this railway are considerable.
“It will enable more journeys by rail that are fast, clean and efficient – and provide a real alternative to journeys on our congested roads.
“This in turn will make the region more attractive to existing and prospective businesses and we anticipate some additional 12,000 jobs will be created within the area as well as new housing developments.”
> Words by Hannah Richardson