A MAJOR proposal for a new ‘Oxford Metro’ which could see an electric tramway running through the heart of the city to the John Radcliffe Hospital has been unveiled by a UK campaign group.

The Thames Valley branch of Railfuture says that it wants to build on the success of the Oxford-Marylebone rail link established in 2016.

Railfuture has visions for remodelling the city’s railway station with additional platforms, and developing metro-style rail links across the area, including to Cowley, Witney and the John Radcliffe Hospital.

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The group wants to see a new connection between the Oxford-Bicester and Bicester-London routes, which could later be followed by East West Rail, connecting Oxford and Bicester with Milton Keynes by 2024 and ultimately linking to Cambridge.

In addition, it is now backing plans to reopen the Cowley branch to passenger trains, and supporting the Witney-Oxford Transport Group which has applied to the Department for Transport for funding to launch a feasibility study into replacing a rail route closed to passengers in 1962.

A spokesperson for Railfuture said that, with a Zero Emission Zone coming to the city centre, an electric tramway would be a ‘major step forward’.

Plan proposed by Thames Valley Railfuture group shows the metro-style services in and around Oxford

Plan proposed by Thames Valley Railfuture group shows the metro-style services in and around Oxford

They added: “People have not been thinking much about rail services during the pandemic, but as things get back to normal and road traffic and pollution increase, it is important to open up a debate about Oxford Metro.

“We have seen very positive results from opening the Oxford-Marylebone route, and with the East West Rail to come this is the time to build momentum in favour of rail.

“Reopening of the Cowley branch to passengers is also very feasible, and an in-depth study into plans for Witney would point the way towards relieving the ever-increasing traffic on the A40.

“We also look forward to seeing a timetable for improvements to Oxford station, which would be needed to support new rail services.”

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They added that new stations are part of the plan, not only on the Cowley and Witney routes but also at Grove to the west of Didcot on the main line to Swindon, to serve some of the county’s many new housing developments.

All of the group's ideas for the Oxford Metro network, apart from the tramway, are existing proposals which local groups are already pushing for.

A recent survey by Conservative MP for Wantage David Johnston found that 98 per cent of constituents are in favour of the station being reopened.

But Oxfordshire County Council, which is the local highway authority, revealed it has no plans to support the ‘Oxford Metro’ concept set out by Railfuture.

Instead, a spokesperson said that the council is ‘highly supportive’ of efforts to decarbonise transport and recognises that public transport will play a key role in achieving this goal.

Oxford City Council, on the other hand, did not confirm whether it supports the electric tramway idea.

However, a spokesperson for the authority commented on plans to turn the city’s railway station into a transport hub of ‘national importance’.

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Currently, plans to improve the station include bus and taxi interchange and cycling facilities as well as ‘unlocking’ rail network capacity.

They said: “Oxford City Council is awaiting a decision from the Government on the first tranche of a £160m plan put forward by the Network Rail and the Oxfordshire Growth Board to turn Oxford’s railway station into a transport hub of national importance.

“This funding would support the future delivery of a new western ticket hall and platform, enabling the proposed East West Rail route into Oxford, currently programme for the end of 2024.

“This work also lays the ground for further upgrades to the capacity of Oxfordshire’s rail network, including the Cowley branch line to East Oxford, the redevelopment of the main station building at Oxford, and the potential opportunity to create new stations at Grove and Begbroke.

“Both city and county councils have also supported the production and contributed funds for an Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study, which will be soon by published by Network Rail and the Department for Transport.

“The work presents a rail strategy to meet the needs of a growing population, while also reducing the need to use polluting cars.”

Plans for Oxford Metro are laid out in more detail here www.railfuture.org.uk/article1875-Oxford-Metro