PLANS to run passenger trains to Cowley are 'behind schedule' and need to get back on track, according a county councillor.

In October, Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds was joined by Chiltern Railways and Oxford Business Park bosses on a walk outlining the impact the rail service could have in the city, which is often gridlocked by traffic.

The Cowley Branch Line, currently used for freight by BMW, has been shut to passengers since 1963.

Rail bosses have estimated the route could be in use by the end of 2019, once new stations were built near Oxford Business Park and Oxford Science Park to provide a link with Oxford station.

Once complete, it would also provide an easy route between the city centre and popular destinations such as the Kassam Stadium and retail park.

READ AGAIN: More details on Oxford's Cowley branch line

But Liberal Democrat county councillor John Howson said this 'schedule' would be impossible to meet, according to guidance from the council's transport supremo Yvonne Constance. 

She told him earlier this month that an initial engineering assessment of the line would be carried out later this year, together with a strategic study and initial findings would be available in the autumn.

Oxford Mail: A train runs a test passenger service on the Cowley Branch Line, in Oxford, stopping at science Park in 2014. Picture: Richard Cave

County council leader Ian Hudspeth, who was at a test run of the branch line in 2014, said: "I'm a great believer in the project - it would reduce congestion on the ring road. We need to look at developer contributions to help to fund it."

Mr Howson said there 'definitely would not be passenger trains running on the Cowley branch line this year'.

He added: "It's disappointing because the line would serve people working at Oxford Business Park and Oxford Science Park and take hundreds of cars off the roads.

"Freight trains run up and down the line every day so it's a question of creating new stations and signalling - yes it would cost millions but it would be a relatively cheap price for reducing congestion.

"This is a missed opportunity and the project needs to get back on track.

"The county council is not responsible for making this happen but it can at least lobby Network Rail to ensure that at the very least a timetable is put in place for the work to be done."

READ AGAIN: MP Dodds leads fight to reopen Cowley Branch Line 

Mrs Constance said: "An initial engineering assessment of the line will be carried out this year to review the existing infrastructure (ie track, signalling, bridges and earthworks) to provide an anticipated cost for the infrastructure and systems upgrade that will be required to enable safe operation of passenger trains along the line. This will include building two new stations."

Oxford Mail: Cowley Branch Line

She added that the strategic study will separately consider wider capacity requirements for the main line between Kennington and Oxford station, on which trains to and from Cowley will operate alongside other freight and passenger trains. 

Ms Constance said: "This is likely to identify the need to consider a range of interventions to increase capacity, which may then be remitted for further development. 

"The strategic study will also look at the likely changes in demand arising from housing and economic growth, improved connectivity and better train frequency, including Cowley. We anticipate some initial findings being available this autumn."

Transport expert Hugh Jaeger said the estimate that the branch line could be open by the end of 2019 had been too optimistic.

He added: "The branch line would fit in with Chiltern Railways' existing timetable well.

"With real willingness from all parties, including Network Rail, it should be possible to open the line by the end of 2020.

"I would be very pleased to see some physical work starting this time next year."

Network Rail spokeswoman Emily Maiden said it was about to embark on the strategic study of the Cowley Branch Line, which would take six to nine months to complete.

Oxford Mail:

It is understood the study, funded by the Department for Transport and the Oxfordshire Growth Board, is costing £500,000.

She added: "At present, the line is used for freight purposes only. These will continue to run. However, there will be no passenger services running on the line in 2019."

Ms Maiden added there was no estimated date for trains to be running and that the strategic study would inform this decision.

Ms Dodds said: "Such a railway line would radically improve connections between Blackbird Leys, Cowley and Littlemore, and the city centre, as well as link up our science parks. It is really a question of when, not if, the branch line should open to passengers - so I hope Network Rail will view this with the urgency it deserves."

Chiltern Railways spokeswoman Laura Jones said "Chiltern Railways regarding the Cowley branch line project. 

"Our position remains unchanged since August 2018 and therefore we are working closely with the Oxfordshire Rail Connectivity Study, which is looking at the development of the rail network in the area.  

"We are happy to work with all stakeholders to support delivery of passenger services on the Cowley line and will provide more information when we are able to."