A CAMPAIGN to raise £70,000 to make a business case for a direct railway link from Oxford to Stratford-upon-Avon is nearing its target.

More than £50,000 has been pledged, with Oxfordshire County Council and train operator First Great Western among bodies which have offered contributions of £10,000 each.

This has been added to an initial £10,000 from developer St Modwen, which is behind a housing project at a former Royal Engineers’ depot in Long Marston, Warwickshire, alongside the route, dubbed the Shakespeare Line.

Oxfordshire’s contribution is conditional on the target being reached by the end of this month.

FGW managing director Mark Hopwood has said he wants to see direct trains again between Oxford and Stratford, initially on the existing longer route via Leamington Spa.

Scheme supporters want a connecting line rebuilt at Honeybourne, on the Cotswold Line between Oxford and Worcester, a branch line to Long Marston and the reopening of a six-mile stretch from Long Marston to Stratford.

The fundraising drive, led by Stratford-on-Avon District Council and supported by the Stratford Rail Transport Group and the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group voluntary bodies, followed Network Rail’s decision to include the proposal as an “unfunded aspiration” in its Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy last year.

The company said at the time it was up to campaigners to make the case and show the idea was feasible.

Funding is needed for a study to meet the requirements of Network Rail’s formal Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) process.

At the recent annual meeting of the Cotswold Line Promotion Group, members agreed to donate £1,000 towards the study, a sum which was matched by Charlbury resident Bill Parker and topped up by two further offers of £250 each from other CLPG members.

Mr Hopwood told the meeting: “We very much support the idea of re-instating the Honeybourne to Stratford link.

“I was involved in launching the former London-Oxford-Stratford service and am keen, as managing director of First Great Western, to get that service back again, via Leamington Spa at first.

“We have put our hand in our pocket and contributed towards this study.”

John Morgan, of the Stratford Rail Transport Group, said: “The clock is ticking at the moment, due to the time limit put in place by Oxfordshire.”

He added that reviving the route would offer a wide range of benefits: “I have always likened this to a coronary bypass of the regional railway network.

“From six miles of new track, you get a second Oxford to Birmingham route, a third Worcester-Birmingham route and connections from Worcester, Evesham and the Cotswolds to Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa, with the potential for an extension to Coventry.

“It would also reinstate a rail service on the London-Oxford-Stratford international tourist corridor. The Chiltern service via Banbury does not meet that need.”

For more information about the campaign and how to donate, see shakespeareline.com/arl.htm