PLANS for a new 'Oxford Metro' will be presented to the Government as part of a future plan for a city-wide system of new train routes.

Upgrades to signalling south of the city's main station could allow the Cowley Branch Line to be used again for passenger services, possibly using refurbished trains from the London Underground.

Leading academic Dr Nicholas Falk said it is time to 'stop talking' about a new metro system and to 'get things under way'.

It would at first serve stops at Oxford Station, Oxford Science Park, Blackbird Leys and Oxford Business Park, but could be the first step towards a bigger system.

This could later include metro services between Oxford and Didcot, also serving a new station at Kidlington, according to new proposals.

The idea has been suggested by Wolfson Economics Prize winner Dr Falk, founder of think tank URBED, who said it could cut traffic in the city and give people an easier way to travel to work in Cowley.

Dr Falk, pictured below, said the scheme could also drive the redevelopment of the city's West End – including Oxford Station – and urged local authorities to act on the idea.

He added: "At the moment, Oxford has a very successful economy but it risks being left behind by other areas like Cambridge if we cannot find solutions to its transport problems.

"If we don't take action, it will just become somewhere nice that visitors go.

"Surely now is the time to stop talking about this and to get things under way?"

Dr Falk has held 'promising' discussions with officials at the Department for Transport about the idea and is due to give a presentation to the Rail Board in the coming months.

His idea is significant because it could allow passenger services to resume on the Cowley Branch Line, which has been freight-only since 1963, without major infrastructure work.

It had previously been thought only costly upgrades to increase capacity, such as increasing the number of tracks between Oxford and Didcot from two to four, could bring this about.

But experts at URBED now believe the metro service could be made possible by signal upgrades already planned by Network Rail this year.

And this view is also supported by Chiltern Railways, which recently opened new services from central Oxford to London Marylebone.

  • A passenger train carried out a test run on the Cowley branch in 2014

The firm previously said it would aim to begin services on the branch line by 2020 but when asked recently stressed it had made little progress.

In an interview with the Oxford Mail, however, chief project engineer Stephen Barker said: "It is still potentially possible to do it by 2020.

"We need additional capacity to the stop of Oxford but we are not necessarily reliant on four-tracking between Oxford and Didcot to do that.

"Some other improvements that Network Rail are looking at on the line in the coming years could deliver that capacity.

"The new technology will make much better use of infrastructure."

The idea being put forward by Dr Falk also suggests using refurbished London Underground district line trains, such as those produced by a company called Vivarail, on the branch line.

Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council, pictured below, said: "This is a perfectly feasible way to introduce services on the branch line.

"The issue you would have is when more freight services start running on the main line, and whether or not the gaps that leave room for branch line services would still be there.

"But we would be very enthusiastic about starting on the basis of whatever commercial operation the train companies could put together - the desire to establish some kind of service for the city's science and business parks, or potentially for the Kassam Stadium for Saturday football matches, is huge."

Oxfordshire County Council leader Ian Hudspeth said he had doubts about whether there would be capacity but encouraged Dr Falk to speak to the authority.

A Network Rail spokesman said: "We are continually looking at ways to improve the railway and welcome any new innovative ideas that can improve our capacity."

A DfT spokesman said: "We are committed to improving rail journeys and have been talking to Oxfordshire County Council about their plans to reopen the Cowley branch line."