Report backs £200m Cotswold Line upgrade

A proposal to invest £200m in further improvements to the Cotswold Line, to allow extra trains to run between Oxford and Worcester by 2025, has been sent to the Department for Transport.

If implemented, the plans would allow a core frequency of two trains per hour to run both ways between Oxford and Worcester, with most of these services operating beyond Worcester to and from Great Malvern, Hereford or Kidderminster.

The trains would each skip some of the intermediate stations between Worcester and Oxford, to maintain a balance between service frequency and journey times, due to the need to fit in with the pattern of half-hourly express services between Oxford and London Paddington.

Extra double track would be needed between Evesham and Pershore in Worcestershire and between Oxford and Hanborough at the eastern end of the line.

This would also provide capacity to allow the future operation of new ‘Oxford Metro’ local shuttle services from Hanborough to Oxford or Didcot Parkway, giving four trains per hour between Oxford and an expanded station and park-and-ride centre at Hanborough.

This would serve the wider West Oxfordshire area, reflecting the substantial housing growth planned for the district, with more than 13,000 new homes set to be built by 2031. Some of the shuttle trains could be extended to and from Charlbury or Moreton-in-Marsh. Further development work is being done on the Oxford Metro option, with the support of Oxfordshire County Council.

The Cotswold Line Promotion Group’s president, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who chaired the task force, told MPs in a briefing about the proposals: “This is an output-driven scheme, seeking to radically transform the role the Cotswold Line plays in meeting and stimulating sustainable growth across five counties, stretching from the borders of Wales to the heartlands of the West Midlands to the Oxford-to-Cambridge Arc.”

The business case for the plan was produced after three years of work by the North Cotswold Line Task Force, which was formed following an event organised by train operator Great Western Railway (GWR) at Witney in 2016.

It says that the investment would be good value for money, generating £4.46 in enhanced economic activity and employment for every £1 invested, with almost 400,000 extra passenger journeys made by rail each year.

The task force, made up of representatives of councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships, the rail industry and the CLPG, wants the Government to add the project to its Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline list and to contribute towards the £3m cost of further development work, with a view to beginning work as soon as possible, allowing the improvements to be completed and extra train services running by 2024-25.

A further benefit from the project would be creating extra capacity needed to handle new train services between from Oxford and Worcester to Stratford-upon-Avon, should a separate project to upgrade the freight branch line from Honeybourne to Long Marston and reinstate the closed line from there to Stratford come to fruition.

It would also better connect the communities along the Cotswold Line with the Government’s Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge ‘Growth Arc’ and projects to improve rail connections between Birmingham, Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

The report says that the new GWR timetable for the Cotswold Line, launched in December 2019, represents the best service that can be provided on the route with the present infrastructure, but that doing nothing to improve current capacity will be a constraint on economic activity and growth in the areas served by the line.

The report was drawn up for the task force by specialist consultancy SLC Rail, based in Birmingham. Former CLPG chairman Ian Baxter is one of its directors and played a key role in the work on the project.

  • Click the Download Attachment link below to read the task force’s full report on the strategic business case for improving the Cotswold Line and its train services.

Click here to read the Hansard report of what MPs said about the proposals during a House of Commons Westminster Hall debate held on Wednesday, January 22, or click here to watch the debate on Parliament TV.

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