Cowley branch is another project for Oxford
A little-used freight line in suburban Oxford is a step closer to being resurrected as a mixed-traffic route. The Cowley branch, which serves the car manufacturing plant of the same name, has seen the local authority, Oxford City Council, award an Infrastructure Place Study contract to Birmingham headquartered SLC Rail. The Cowley branch line was a project identified under a UK government scheme which seeks to reconnect communities to the national rail network.
The Infrastructure Place Study, led by SLC Rail, is part of that reconnecting process. The work will help to identify any additional infrastructure needs to ensure that the rail scheme is fully integrated with existing communities, maximising options to improve local movement and connectivity. This work will happen in parallel with the development of the finance and funding strategy that will support the project’s full business case.
Serving the home of the iconic Mini
The SLC Rail commission is part of a wider 4.5 million pound (5.3 million euros) package of work aiming to reopen the Cowley Branch Line to passengers. It’s supported by Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council and major local landowners. The passenger service on the line was originally part of a longer route, running east to Princes Risborough.
The line is currently only used for freight services to BMW’s Cowley manufacturing plant. The factory has been through several evolutions, but it is still the home of the iconic Mini range. If funding is secured for the implementation phase, the rail track will be upgraded for reinstated passenger rail services, with two new stations at “Oxford Littlemore” (near Oxford Science Park) and “Oxford Cowley” (near Advanced Research Computing ARC Oxford).
A programme called “Reversing Beeching”
Britain has a legacy of freight lines that previously were mixed traffic. However, a wide-ranging cull in the 1960s saw many routes closed entirely, and several lost their passenger services. In the interim decades, it has been recognised that the so-called Beeching Axe (named after the consultant brought in by the government) went too far. Some efforts have been made to reinstate lines and services, including a programme called “Reversing Beeching”, which has seen several short lines earmarked for investment. The programme is something of a misnomer, given that the “axe” fell on thousands of miles and thousands of stations.
All being well, the Cowley branch will follow in the pattern set by other projects where freight lines have been put in the spotlight for upgrading. The Fawley branch in Southampton and the line through Blyth in Northumberland are two similar examples. The latter project is approaching completion, with passenger services expected in summer this year. At Cowley, there are a few steps yet to be completed before that happens. Meanwhile, SLC Rail will work closely with Network Rail, who are currently developing the engineering design for the rail infrastructure and core station solutions and producing the full business case.