REOPENING the Rail link from Oxford to Witney and Carterton may be investigated under new county council plans.

The long-term proposal, which would cut traffic on the A40, is contained within a new council rail strategy outlining its vision for the railways over the next 22 years.

Neither of the two largest towns in West Oxfordshire have a railway station, after the branch line from Yarnton to Fairford was axed in the 1960s.

The strategy lists investigating the long-term reinstatement of a rail link as a “key opportunity” to improve connections to RAF Brize Norton.

The county councillor behind the strategy, Rodney Rose, said: “It is one of those things which is on our wish list, and it should be explored to see if there’s any possibility of it happening.

“I would not expect any work on it in the very near future. Oxford Station has got to take priority, and that will no doubt take all the funding for the next 10 years.”

The rail strategy also proposes looking at dedicated feeder bus services to Hanborough Station from both Witney and Carterton.

Passenger groups and West Oxfordshire District Council welcomed the suggestion of a county council investigation into reopening the stations.

Cotswold Line Promotion Group chairman John Ellis said: “From time to time people have thought about the possibility of reinstatment, particularly with congestion on the A40 and the extent to which it could reduce that, but I have no idea what previous infrastructure is still available.

“If anybody were to do a study, we would very much support it both from a connectivity point of view, but also to take traffic off the A40 if you saw it as a Witney to Oxford shuttle.”

West Oxfordshire District Council leader Barry Norton said: “We would certainly welcome moves to investigate returning the link to Witney and Carterton, but I suspect this is going to be a long-term aspiration rather than a short- or medium-term thing.

“This was looked at in the late 1990s and a feasibility study was carried out when we were pushing for it. The result was that costs were prohibitive. They were talking in excess of £100m and there were problems highlighted at Eynsham, South Leigh and Witney, where the line had been built on.”

“It is not without problems but there may be an economic business case for something in the distant future.

“It has got to be a positive move on the county’s part.”

Witney held a public holiday when the railway arrived in 1861. But the Beeching cuts saw the last regular passenger train steam out of Witney on June 18, 1962, and goods services leaving in November 1970.

In the 1970s and again in the late ’90s, suggestions of reopening the stations were dismissed.

Network Rail spokesman Sam Kelly told the Oxford Mail: “We are aware of it but it is not part of plans at the moment. We will be discussing it with the council.”

THE former branch line to Witney, Carterton and Fairford in Gloucestershire was built in two stages.

The first, from Yarnton Junction, on the Cotswold Line, to Witney opened in 1861. The second, the East Gloucestershire Railway, was originally intended to link Witney with Cheltenham, but it was cut short at Fairford, opening in 1873.

For most of its life, the route carried local passenger traffic and freight to and from the woollen mills of Witney, with coal to power the blanket mills coming in and the finished products being sent out.

The years before the Second World War saw an upsurge in traffic, with military bases being built along the route, including RAF Brize Norton, leading to the opening of Carterton Station in 1944.

With the growth of road traffic after the war, the line’s fortunes began to fade.

It was closed to all traffic west of Witney in June 1962, with only goods trains remaining between Oxford and Witney. The last goods trains ran in 1970 and the track was later torn up.

The former stations at Eynsham and Witney have been redeveloped as business parks, while Carterton was converted into a riding stable.