East West Rail – Central Section

The benefits of the proposed rail link from East West Rail Western Section to Cambridge – and how we’re working with local groups to help determine the route

The Central Section will not only provide a direct rail service between the Bedford area and Cambridge but also introduce a much-needed direct link between Oxford and Cambridge to improve journey times.

We have been working to identify a route to extend the Western Section of East West Rail to Cambridge, allowing it to connect with the East Coast Mainline and enable train services to operate between Oxford and Cambridge and onto Norfolk and Suffolk. The geographical corridor of Bedford to Cambridge via Sandy was confirmed in February 2016 as offering the best value for all.

The selection of this corridor followed careful evaluation of the options with input from rail industry stakeholders and regional working groups, including the local authorities in the East West Rail Consortium and the Department for Transport. Further analysis and consultation will take place in the future to determine options for the ‘line on a map’ route – information about this will be provided on the Network Rail Consultations website.

Easier journeys across Britain

The new Central Section will improve rail transport between the Bedford area and Cambridge and provide a direct rail service between Oxford and Cambridge. A typical train journey between these two vibrant cities can currently take two and a half to three hours; initial journey time predictions for a direct route are one to one and a half hours.

Reduced journey times and increased journey options will also provide access to wider affordable housing and a growing jobs market in Oxford, Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Sandy. The new Central Section will help people and goods to move around the region by supporting the existing economy and encouraging future investment.

Although a date has not yet been confirmed for the Central Section rail link to open, the illustrative programme, which assumes funding and consents approval, shows a possible completion of the scheme in the early 2030s.

July 2017 update

Following the announcement in summer 2016 of a preferred geographic corridor (Bedford area-Sandy area-Cambridge) for the Central Section of East West Rail, we continue to work with industry stakeholders to gather appropriate evidence to support a case for investment for this new strategic rail link.  

We are currently developing a number of possible route options within the preferred corridor, in collaboration with local authorities and rail industry stakeholders, to assess their relevant strategic and economic cases. This continues to be work in progress with no decisions yet made about the preferred route.  

It is important to note that, at this early stage of development, route options will NOT show construction “footprints” or conceptual designs for infrastructure, but are solely an incremental step in the feasibility process to inform the business case analysis. In due course, the preferred route will indicate, in general terms, how the proposed new railway will link the Bedford area to Cambridge.   

The current programme would see a preferred route being selected during 2018 following a number of public consultation events. These will be publicised in due course. 

Illustrative plans show construction starting in the mid 2020s, with trains operating on the new railway by the early 2030s, subject to there being a case for investment and a successful application for development consent powers.

The scheme is also being considered as part of a wider study undertaken by the National Infrastructure Commission on the Oxford - Milton Keynes - Cambridge corridor. 

Thank you for your interest in this exciting project that will stimulate economic growth across England's economic heartland geographic area.  

Formal updates on progress will be provided via this website and the East West Rail Consortium, as development continues.