OXFORDSHIRE’s political top brass has welcomed plans to forge a new rail link to Cambridge, though the decision not to electrify the line has been branded a ‘disaster for our environment’.

On Saturday, (January 23), the Department for Transport announced it would spend £760m on rebuilding the railway tracks between Bicester and Bletchley in Buckinghamshire as part of a scheme called East-West Rail.

Following the old ‘Varsity Line’, the new train tracks will eventually run from Oxford to Cambridge by the end of the decade according to a Government minister.

But while the news was welcomed, Oxford’s two MPs were critical of the decision not to electrify the new train line, which will instead run diesel engines.

The Oxford East MP, Anneliese Dodds, said: "I am disappointed that the government has confirmed diesel trains will run on the East-West link between Oxford and Cambridge. I have consistently called for this railway to be electric.”

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Ms Dodds, who is also the Labour shadow chancellor, added: “As well as being a disaster for our environment, I am worried that this is just more wasted money, as it costs more to electrify railway lines later."

Her Liberal Democrat colleague Layla Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, was similarly critical of the diesel option.

Ms Moran said: “This funding is a fantastic step in the right direction, although the decision to not electrify the line during a climate emergency is disappointing and could prove more costly later on. We need to see funding committed to the whole line, and I am calling on the Government to reconsider on electrification, which is badly needed.”

When the funding was announced over the weekend, the Local Democracy Reporting Service asked rail minister Chris Heaton Harris what the new funding’s impact on another long-discussed infrastructure project between Oxford and Cambridge would be.

Oxfords two MPs Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds both think East-West Rail should run electric trains, not diesel

Oxford's two MPs Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds both think East-West Rail should run electric trains, not diesel

Oxford's two MPs Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds

The minister said that the Oxford to Cambridge expressway, a proposed dual carriageway, could remain ‘paused for a very long time’ if people ‘voted with their feet’ and used the new train line instead.

In response, Lib Dem Ms Moran said: “Pausing the Expressway is simply not good enough and could lead to its delivery through the back door. Concerns that we are seeing the ‘expressway by stealth’ must be addressed.

“This is a climate emergency – government has a responsibility to promote travel that helps us address that. The Liberal Democrats want to see the Expressway scrapped altogether, with any funding released and reinvested in sustainable transport.”

She plans to ask a question about the fate of the Expressway in the House of Commons today (Thursday, January 28).

Meanwhile, Tory MP for Henley, John Howell, welcomed the cash as part of the Government’s promise to ‘building back better across every part of the United Kingdom as we recover from coronavirus’.

READ AGAIN: £760m will lay new track for trains to Cambridge

The Government hopes the new train line between Bicester and Bletchley will be completed by 2025.

It will allow Oxfordshire residents to travel directly by train to Milton Keynes for the first time since the late 1960s, when services were axed.

Alongside the announcement of cash for East-West rail, the Government also opened invitations for councils, business groups and rail enthusiasts to bid for £50k grants from an ‘Ideas Fund’ which could help to reopen disused stations and branch railway lines.

Mr Heaton Harris said projects like the Witney to Oxford line would be ‘exactly the sort of thing’ which could benefit from this funding.

And Witney MP Robert Courts welcomed this statement.

Mr Courts said: “I have always been clear that I want public transport to form a key part of an integrated transport network in West Oxfordshire.

“The Witney-Oxford Transport Group has some interesting ideas about a potential new railway line, which I was pleased to discuss with them again recently. The group is aware of the Ideas Fund connected to the Government’s Restoring Your Railways scheme and, as I understand from our recent meeting, intend to explore the possibility of making a submission to the fund.”

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The Conservative MP added that upgrades to Oxford station, planned by Network Rail were ‘an essential precursor to any further work’ on local railways, as was an upgrade to the Cotswold line, an issue on which he has campaigned.

The Ideas Fund was also welcomed by the two Oxford MPs Ms Dodds and Ms Moran, who both said it could benefit ambitions to reopen the Cowley Branch Line, allowing for rail travel between the city centre and eastern districts.

The East-West Rail link was also recently discussed by Oxfordshire’s Growth Board as they looked at plans to promote technology and science jobs across the region between Oxford and Cambridge.

The plans for ‘Englands Economic Heartland’ are similar to several other Government initiatives, like the Oxford to Cambridge Arc, which are designed to encourage more jobs in the region through investing in housing and transport.

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