East-West rail still vital for region's growth

Captain Tom Moore at the head of a freight train on the Bacon Curve at Ipswich.

Freight trains from Felixstowe would use the East West Link from Cambridge to Oxford and Milton Keynes. - Credit: John Day

The rail industry may have been badly hit by the Covid pandemic, but a new rail link between East Anglia and the south midlands is more vital than ever according to one of its keenest promoters.

East-West Rail is a project to rebuild the rail link between Oxford and Cambridge - creating a route that is likely to be extended to Ipswich and could be an important freight line for trains from Felixstowe.

Fightback logo

Fightback East - Credit: Archant

The line is being built from the west to the east - with existing lines between Oxford and Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, and then Bletchley to Bedford being upgraded. However, the former line between Cambridge and Bedford was closed and dismantled during the Beeching cuts and a new route would be needed.

Ipswich councillor Phil Smart has been a long-term local authority member of the East-West rail team, and said that fears that the new line might not be economic after the pandemic had been exaggerated by those in Cambridgeshire who did not want a new line.

He said: "There are those who are concerned about the impact of the new line, in particular the likelihood that it will lead to new homes being built and they have been questioning its viability.

"But so far the supporters of the line haven't needed to make their case - but this is a project that is badly needed to improve links along the route but also for the economy further afield."

It would be an important freight route: "We need to see many more containers leaving Felixstowe by rail on the cross country routes and there are more distribution centres in the midlands. This line will be needed - especially when there is a problems on the fenland route at March!"

Mr Smart estimated there would be hourly freight trains on the line as well as the passenger services that would be its mainstay - and many of those passenger services are likely to run through to Ipswich.

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Work on the first phase of the line is due to be completed by 2025 with the Bletchley to Bedford section upgraded by 2030. The route of the final section - and the finance for it - has still to be agreed but the whole line should be completed by the mid-2030s.