Oxfordshire County Council commissioned the preliminary strategic outline case for the Carterton-Witney-Oxford Rail Corridor (CWORC). This established whether there was a case for building the line, along with the benefits linked to the proposal as well as the likely cost of the project. This followed the original proposals made public by Witney Oxford Transport Group. A summary report was issued earlier this year, giving some details of the proposals.
It has now been revealed that the rail link is feasible and would be justified in transport strategy terms, though a number of planning and environmental issues have been identified. There is also a high cost – estimated to be between £700m and £900m – attached to the proposals as well as difficulties in undertaking such a project.
The line, however, would be profitable although funding for such a large project would need to come from central government. It is, therefore, seen as a long-term project which is dependent on the completion of other rail improvements being funded and completed. These include upgrades to the North Cotswold Line, to which the county council remains committed.
Benefits would include a 23-minute journey from Carterton to Oxford, 16 minutes from Witney and 11 minutes from Eynsham. These are journey time savings of more than 70%. The report also highlights that, compared to other modes of transport, rail is best placed to deliver journey time savings while providing additional capacity.
The first phase of the railway could be delivered by 2033, though no route has yet been decided. The project would also be completed in phases.
Councillor Judy Roberts, Oxfordshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Infrastructure and Development Strategy, said: “We committed to undertake a study to explore the potential for a new rail link to serve West Oxfordshire, which we have done. The work so far shows that this transformational project would be possible and could provide potentially significant transport and other benefits in the longer-term, in line with our policies to improve public transport.
“However, it would also come at a very significant cost, as well as having wider planning considerations, which we would need to discuss with West Oxfordshire District Council and other partners.”
Councillor Andy Graham, Leader of West Oxfordshire District Council, said: “We welcome the feasibility study and partnership opportunities to bring an ambitious project to fruition with the county council and other stakeholders.
“There is much work to be done and we will need to create the framework to ensure it is fully costed as an investment that will make a difference to the lives of our residents and address current and future employment. It is not what we do for ourselves today but what we leave for future generations.”