AFTER nearly 50 years, the Varsity Line could soon be reopened after Government officials gave the scheme their backing.

The Department for Transport has given its support to plans for the reopening of a rail link between Oxford and Cambridge and says it is now starting work on the proposal. This would extend the already-approved East West rail link and, transport campaigners hope, lead to a direct rail route to the major port of Felixstowe.

County councillor Rodney Rose, deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said the East West Rail Consortium – made up of local authorities along the route including the county council, city council and Cherwell District Council – had already hired engineering company Atkins to investigate how a link to Cambridge could work.

He said: “Beyond Bedford there is less of the original line for it to become a railway line so we have got to find a route first, and the timescale will depend on where the cash comes from.

“Once we know it will be funded that will speed up the work.”

It is not yet known how much the link would cost.

Mr Rose said continuing the line to Felixstowe – which is the sixth busiest container port in Europe – should be an important part of the extension.

Islip resident Ian East, of Oxford to Bicester Rail Action Group, said: “The line should never have been closed in the first place.”

The Varsity Line was closed in 1967 after pressure from the Government and lack of use because the trains which ran on the line were too slow.

Last month more than £500m of funding was agreed for the East West rail link between Reading and Bedford, with Oxford at its heart, allowing it to go ahead.

The DfT says it is now developing proposals to extend this with the construction of a new railway line from Bedford to Cambridge as well as a new interchange station where it meets the East West line.

Officials say this would complete the “London-Cambridge-Oxford tech triangle” which it says is the “kernel” in the UK of cutting-edge high-tech industry developments.

DfT spokesman Jon Rhodes said: “The department is working closely with local authorities to identify a potential route for the Bedford to Cambridge railway line, which would allow trains to run direct between Oxford and Cambridge and potentially to other destinations further east.

“This work should be completed by the spring after which we will consider how it could be financed.”

Caryl Jones, a spokeswoman for the East West Rail Consortium, said: “By connecting centres of economic activity and growth, East West Rail will make the region more attractive as a place to do business, for employers and employees and for inward investment.

“It is expected to boost the regional GDP by some £38m per annum and create 12,000 new jobs.”