£800 million to be invested in restoring two rail services axed 50 years ago

23 January 2021, 00:13 | Updated: 23 January 2021, 08:39

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Two rail routes in the north and south of England that were closed more than 50 years ago will be restored with £794 million of new funding, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said £760 million would go towards reinstating services between Bicester, Oxfordshire, and Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, for the next phase of East West Rail.

It will be the first time trains have run between the two locations since 1968.

Meanwhile, a smaller fund of £34 million will be invested in reopening the Northumberland Line between Newcastle and Ashington.

Services between the two stations were closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts, which aimed to increase the efficiency of the UK's nationalised railway systems.

Mr Shapps is also encouraging councils, MPs and community groups to submit bids for a share of the third and final round of the DfT's Ideas Fund, which was created to help plans for new routes and reinstatements.

Grant Shapps explained to LBC how the railway funding will be distributed
Grant Shapps explained to LBC how the railway funding will be distributed. Picture: PA / LBC

The transport secretary told LBC's Westminster correspondent Ben Kentish the service in Oxfordshire - also known as the Varsity Line because it will connect the Oxbridge university towns - will create "many more" jobs than the 1,500 it will require to be built.

"We've seen how Oxford and our academics have helped to lead us out of this coronavirus crisis with the extraordinary work on vaccines," he said.

"Imagine joining up these great, intellectual power hubs of Oxford and Cambridge with the railway line - the Varsity Line which closed 50 years ago - reopening and creating that connectivity, 1,500 jobs to build it and I think many, many more jobs once it's built through all the great work that goes on by those places interconnecting."

Mr Shapps also told LBC the Northumberland Line will "revolutionise" the North East by providing small towns with a link to the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

"Linking back these communities will make all the difference. I've been there and I've seen it for myself," he said.

"This is a line which is still there but runs only a limited amount of freight where we'll be building half-a-dozen different railway stations and allowing local communities, for the first time in over 50 years, to take those trains.

"It is going to revolutionise things for people. It's been promised for decades but it's taken this levelling-up government to actually get on and deliver it."

He added that both routes should be up and running by 2025, with the Northumberland Line possibly coming a bit earlier.

"Unlike some of the other really big rail projects, such as HS2, this isn't something where you're going to have to wait decades. You will be able to use these railway lines in times fairly close by to come and we're going to go a lot further."

The move comes as part of the government's drive to "build back" Britain and "level up" the country, a key pledge from its manifesto.

East West Rail will boost connectivity between Oxford and Cambridge, and is expected to stimulate economic growth and serve new housing developments.

The section between Bicester and Bletchley will include the construction of new stations at Winslow and Bletchley, as well as enhancements to existing stations on the route.

By 2025, two trains per hour will run between Oxford and Milton Keynes via Bletchley.

Simon Blanchflower, chief executive at East West Railway Company, which is overseeing the project, said: "We are delighted that the Government has shown a big commitment to East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc with today's investment decision.

"This funding will enable us to get on with the construction work that will connect communities who live on the East West Rail link."

The investment in the Northumberland Line will fund preparatory work including land acquisition and detailed designs.

Plans include new stations at Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval and Northumberland Park, as well as track upgrades and modifications around level crossings.

Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson said: "This is absolutely fantastic news and means we can now finalise our plans to deliver this transformational project for both Northumberland and the wider region.

"The Northumberland Line will bring a huge boost to the area in terms of economic growth, housing, employment and education opportunities, as well as providing a fast and efficient new transport link between the south-east of the county and Tyneside."

Watch the full interview between LBC's Westminster correspondent Ben Kentish and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in the video below.