A £160m plan to turn Oxford’s railway station into a 'transport hub of national significance' could be signed off this week.

The huge scheme has been described as the ‘basic building block’ which could lay the ground for other upgrades to Oxfordshire’s rail network, including the long-awaited Cowley Branch Line to East Oxford.

Rail campaigners are also excited about what it could mean for other additions to the railways, including a long-discussed plan for a new track between Oxford and Witney.

The result of a bid for £160m of Government cash to fund it might become clear as early as this afternoon in Rishi Sunak’s spending review.

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The bid for cash by Network Rail would help fund track upgrades around Oxford station, which would allow more trains to travel through it, and also allow for quicker journeys.

The bid is the result of more than a year’s work between Network Rail, which looks after railways tracks across the UK, and the Oxfordshire Growth Board.

Together, the two organisations funded the Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study, a document which gives an overview of the current state of railways in the county and how they should be upgraded in the future to meet the needs of a growing population while also reducing the need to use polluting cars.

As the growth board met yesterday, a report on their agenda described the Oxfordshire rail network as having ‘little further capacity’.

It also said the county’s railway tracks did not ‘link important hubs within Oxfordshire and beyond’.

It added: “It is a bottleneck to future rail network expansion.”

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File photo of commuters at Oxford station. Picture: Jon Lewis

To begin improvements on the railways across the county, the Growth Board heard, Oxford station’s train tracks need an upgrade.

The Growth Board, which is made up of the leaders of Oxfordshire’s different councils and representatives of local businesses, agreed to write to the Government, pressuring it to pay out for the upgrades.

The report said: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer is expected to make a decision on the Network Rail’s Phase 2 investment bid shortly, either as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement on November 25 or in early 2021.”

It also added that other organisations, including Oxford University and the Said Business School, had written to the Government pleading for the cash as well.

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Gordon Mitchell, the chief executive of Oxford City Council told the board that an announcement could be made at some point ‘prior to Christmas’, leaving the exact date of an announcement still unclear.

He added the rail corridor study had created ‘clarity’ for the future of local railways, and said Oxford station upgrades were a ‘basic piece of infrastructure development… a basic building block for everything else’.

Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, told the board one of the new railway lines which would be possible after the upgrade would be the Cowley Branch Line through East Oxford.

At the meeting, held online, Mr Hudspeth displayed the front page of the Oxford Mail from November 2014 as a digital background behind him.

At the time, the newspaper led on the story of support for the Cowley Branch Line.

Mr Hudspeth said: “This is a front page from November 2014 when we actually proved the Cowley Branch Line is possible. We can do it.

“But it comes back to the capacity around the service.

“It is absolutely vital we put as much pressure as we can on DfT as possible so we can get the funding so we can deliver the scheme.”

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Ian Hudspeth

Other schemes which would be helped by the upgrade at Oxford would be the western end of the East-West Rail link running from Oxford to Bedford, which could be 'enabled' by 2024.

A quicker and more efficient commuter network between the north and south of Oxfordshire would also be created.

And the upgrades could also allow for a new track between Oxford and Witney in the future, taking the pressure off the A40, according to Charlie Maynard the chairman of the Witney-Oxford Transport Group, who spoke at the meeting.

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Growth Board members agreed to send a letter to the Government giving their backing to the bid.

In a scheme linked to the track improvements, Oxford City Council has drawn up a new plan to overhaul Oxford station’s building.

The ‘master plan’ for the station was announced earlier this year, and could also help to boost the city council’s plans to regenerate the west end of Oxford.

Correction: A previous version of this article said the East-West Rail Link to Cambridge would be completed by 2024 due to the station upgrade. It will actually be completed by the end of the 2020s, but the Oxford station upgrade will allow for the western section of the works to be 'enabled'.