Further delays for new MK rail link?

Bedford St John's Railway Station ENGPNL00120140402173026
Bedford St John's Railway Station ENGPNL00120140402173026

Plans for a cross-country rail link, with Milton Keynes at its centre, now face new delays according to commuters.

Last year the government confirmed plans to build a new train route between Milton Keynes and Oxford. This would link with the present Bedford-Bletchley line, and would eventually go on to Cambridge.

But the scheme has already been moved back 15 months, and commuters fear the project will now be moved delayed once again.

Richard Crane, chairman of the Bedford-Bletchley Rail Users Association (BBRUA), said: “Previously there were promises to have through trains running by December 2017, from Bedford to Milton Keynes, and onto Oxford. Then we were told in April that it was delayed until March 2019.

“Now we suspect that the efforts are going to only concentrate on getting a line from Oxford to Milton Keynes. There are problems with the route going east of Bletchley, with speed restrictions and the level crossings.

“Obviously it’s positive to build the route from Milton Keynes to oxford, but that’s not what the plan was. This is supposed to be an East-west rail line. Milton Keynes is not the east.”

Until 1967 Bletchley was at the centre of the ‘Varsity Line’, which ran from Oxford to Cambridge.

But two-thirds of the route was axed in the 1960s, leaving an hourly service to villages between Bedford and Bletchley.

Mr Crane added: “The Bedford to Bletchley line uses diesel trains, but the new route would be electric. Electrification of the Bedford-Bletchley line seems to have slipped so that works won’t start until 2020, which is another sign that the line is not a priority.

“There needs to be a commitment that Oxford-Bedford is going to happen, not just Oxford to Milton Keynes.”

A spokesman for Network Rail, which manages rail infrastructure across the UK, said: “The plan is to complete work for East West Rail by March 2019. When the scheme was given the go-ahead by government in July 2012, the target date for services to be operational was December 2017, but the scope of work has since expanded to deliver best value for passengers and the taxpayer.

“To minimise disruption and deliver maximum value, we will also electrify the line between Oxford and Bletchley, with electrification of the Bedford to Bletchley section to follow at a later date. Core east-west rail passenger services will be able to operate between Bedford and Oxford with diesel trains once the mothballed section between Bletchley and Bicester has been completed by March 2019.”