This article originally appeared in The Herald Newspaper on 31st January 2018.
Last week I attended a meeting in Parliament on rail in Oxfordshire. It was a useful gathering of all the key stakeholders – Great Western, Chiltern, Network Rail, local councils and MPs.
First, the good news. We have a fantastic station in Didcot which provides excellent links to London, Swindon and Oxford. Didcot Parkway has gone from strength to strength over the last few years. A station revamp, completed in 2014, made the station safer for users and a bigger taxi rank, bus stop and cycle rack were just some of the improvements. Work on the station shows no sign of slowing down with an enclosed cycle rack in the works and the construction of a new multi-storey car park. Electrification of the line out of London has now almost reached Didcot, cutting journey times on the fastest trains to 39 minutes. Great Western Railway’s new, electric Intercity Express trains are being rolled out and will increase capacity by over 24% (648 vs 522 seats), something that any commuter to London will tell you is sorely needed. The driver training programme for the new trains has also been accelerated.
If you have any thoughts on the Great Western rail network the government is currently consulting on proposals for improvements from April 2020 onwards. The consultation closes on 21st February, and I would encourage all who can to make your views known. Type bit.do/d3xeX into your web browser of choice and you will find a link to the response form.
There is more to do though. It has been a long-standing ambition of mine to open a station near Wantage. There has been progress on this front recently. I have linked with other MPs to propose an East-West line which could include new stations in Wantage, Corsham and Royal Wootton Bassett. This would be an extension to the planned link between Cambridge and Oxford and would help link Bristol, Swindon and Oxford. There are obstacles to be overcome in the development of this proposal. The line between Didcot and Oxford particularly is almost at full capacity and we will need to think carefully about how to move forward with this. It will still take many years to make happen, not least as we will have to build extra track.
There are encouraging signs from the National Infrastructure Commission. In their report on the ‘Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc’ in November, they included a station in Wantage as part of the recommendations to government. The Chancellor also committed £300,000 in the Budget to investigate opportunities for new station, services and routes across Oxfordshire.
I will continue to campaign for improvements to rail services across our constituency and will work to make sure that recent progress continues.