IMPROVED rail capacity between Oxford and Didcot should be made a priority as the Government seeks answers to ‘crucial questions’ over the future of the Great Western franchise.

England’s Economic Heartland (EEH) - a partnership of local authorities from Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire and Swindon - has written to the Department for Transport demanding the rail link be improved.

A Government consultation has asked for views on how the Great Western rail network could be improved from April 2020.

Great Western Railway’s franchise expires next year but the transport secretary Chris Grayling said a 12 month extension could be granted while ‘crucial questions’ over the network’s future are discussed.

The partnership’s strategic transport forum chairman, Heather Smith, said: “There should be explicit recognition of the need to develop the role of Oxford as a rail hub to be realised.

She added: “The need to address the capacity constraints on the Didcot to Oxford section of the network have already been identified - not just to the benefit of the Heartland economy but also the wider UK economy.

“This need is in part driven by the demand for rail freight, whose option as an alternative to road haulage along the A34 corridor should be improved.”

The Northamptonshire County councillor said large stations should become transport hubs and integrate with other public transport providers.

She said: “Priority should be given for such co-ordination at Oxford Station and Didcot Parkway.

“The latter is a key rail-head for a number of important locations in the south Oxfordshire, in particular Wallingford, Wantage, Abingdon, Milton Park and Harwell.”

Regular Didcot to Oxford commuter Andy Jarvis said it was about time the route was prioritised.

The 55-year-old said: “We were promised things would all change in January when the new electric trains started.

“But they can’t travel through to Oxford so we are left with small two-coach trains.

“Delayed inter-city trains are prioritised and it can often put an extra hour on the commute and we are paying £3,000 for the privilege.

He added: “You see the same faces every day and many people are talking about not renewing their season ticket and going back to their cars.”

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for transport, Yvonne Constance, said: “Improving rail links within Oxfordshire and across the wider region is absolutely crucial to achieving our economic ambitions.

“The service between Oxford and Didcot is a hugely important part of the network, and we know that demand is increasing.”

GWR spokesman James Davis said: “Specification for future franchises is a matter for the Department for Transport, and it is quite right that they consult with the communities that use those rail services, and we support the DfT’s consultation process.

“In the meantime, as part of the present franchise, we are concentrating on delivering the biggest package of improvements across the GWR network in a generation.”