BUSINESS leaders yesterday backed the reopening of a passenger train link from the centre of Oxford to Cowley as passengers used it for the first time in more than 35 years in a showcase journey.

They said Chiltern Railways’ plan to reopen the line – currently only used by BMW for freight – would help attract workers put off by congested city roads.

Yesterday potential investors and business leaders took a Chiltern train from Oxford station to the end of the line at the BMW car factory's freight sidings.

They went past Oxford Science Park and Oxford Business Park, home to more than 7,500 people, where Chiltern wants to build stations.

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Lindsay Pearson, finance director at Oxford Business Park’s British Gas office, which has more than 750 workers, said: “With our national HQ being in Oxford, we want to be able to move around the country easily.

“The traffic in Oxford and accessibility is a problem.

“Our recruitment channels are restricted at the moment, we only look to recruit from South Oxfordshire because it’s so difficult for people from the north of the county to get to us. In that sense it’s been holding us back.”

“It will be a really good thing for us, we employ more than 750 people and 95 per cent of those come in by car.”

Dr Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which employs 200 at Oxford Science Park, also backed the line.

It would mean the firm would be more likely to keep the business in Oxford rather than move elsewhere such as Banbury or Bicester.

He said: “The infrastructure and the roads in place are a mess. If the line came into being I would be a lot more confident about expanding here. To attract young talent you need good public transport links.”

He added: “Oxford is a fantastic talent pool, with the two universities. A lot of graduates want to stay in Oxford and this would change the dynamic.

“The close proximity to Oxford is important to us, it’s all about the feel of it. We need to feel connected to the heart of Oxford.”

Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership's chairman, Adrian Shooter, a former chairman of Chiltern owner DB Regio UK Ltd, said it promised huge growth.

Oxford Mail:

From left, Chiltern Railways' managing director Rob Brighouse, county council leader Ian Hudspeth and his deputy Rodney Rose and senior train guard Neville Royce with the special train

He said: “Around 7,500 people are employed at the two parks and it’s not inconceivable that could be doubled. The businesses there need to be able to get people to work for them.

“Traffic congestion, as everyone knows, is a major problem and this imaginative proposal has the potential to make smooth daily journeys for thousands of people.”

Chiltern Railways business development director Graham Cross said it was too early to give potential costs of the scheme.

He said: “Congestion in Oxford is a serious issue. We hope this is the answer to the riddle of how companies can grow without causing more congestion.”

County council leader Ian Hudspeth, who commutes into the city by train from Hanborough station on the Cotswold Line, said: “It’s an alternative route of transport that is really going to change everything.”

Ticket to ride

THE journey felt like any other as I joined the crowds on the platform and got on the train, writes Callum Keown

As the Chiltern train pulled out from the station, I was in familiar surroundings – cruising along past Grandpont on the route towards Didcot. 

A brief pause at the line’s Kennington junction, for a now trademark signalling problem, threw the train off course and towards Littlemore and Cowley.

This was previously uncharted territory for myself and presumably everyone on board, as we swept through Littlemore and the edge of Blackbird Leys. 

Oxford Science Park came into view, followed by the Business Park and we stopped just short of the BMW Mini Plant before turning around. The 15-minute journey back went by quickly for one that was 51 years in the making. 

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