Hopes for a rail scheme to connect Oxford and Cambridge have been raised after the Government said it would consider workable proposals.

Lord Bassam said a plan had to include a "proper business case", and be funded as the Government had not studied the likely cost. He added: "Reopening regional or rural lines will not normally be the most effective way of delivering the capacity increases, which as the rail White Paper explained are our priority."

Last month, the East West Rail Consortium brought in consultants to draw up a case for reopening the western sections of the line from Bicester to Bletchley south of Milton Keynes, and the Claydon Junction-Aylesbury line.

Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said a line between Oxford and Cambridge was vital for getting goods as well as passengers off the roads.

He said: "I strongly support the opening up of a rail line between Oxford and Cambridge via Bedford and have been supporting Parliamentary activity to press for this."

The consortium has estimated the cost of reopening the Bicester-Bletchley section at up to £135m. The eastern section, from Bedford to Cambridge, was closed in the 1960s and the track torn up.