2 min read

Bringing Back Witney's Railway: How I Got Involved

When I stopped work at the end of 2021, I wanted to help out in the community. That's how I ended up working on a plan to bring back a rail line to Witney and Carterton
The old rail route to Eynsham from a railway bridge near Witney

Like many residents of Witney and Carterton, I have spent many hours stuck in traffic on the A40. We live near an old railway bridge and over the years I often came across the old railway tracks while running. I was intrigued. Could restoring the railway be a solution to West Oxfordshire's traffic problems and be part of a vision for our district's future?

For many years, I had a busy job running a business. I stopped in December 2021: part of my long-term plan to spend the second part of my life doing something useful for the community. From January 2022, I worked full time on getting to grips with the potential of the rail project. Houses had been built on parts of the old line, but on foot and by bike I explored alternative routes, and tried to figure out if it could work.

Fortunately, I wasn't alone. I soon found the Witney Oxford Transport Group, which has been lobbying for restoration of the old railway line since 2014. I joined them in the summer of 2021 and they made me chair in October. I led WOT Group’s work to identify whether there was a viable route. In 2021 and 2022 we commissioned three technical studies. Two studies addressed route challenges and one focussed on funding, obviously a key issue. These studies were what led Oxfordshire County Council to commission its own feasibility studies, bringing the project a big step closer.

Part of the challenge was getting everyone on board, across political parties. WOT Group ran a residents' survey, which showed that 97% of the more than 900 respondents supported a feasibility study. I spoke to councillors from all political parties and found the great majority supportive. And although Witney's current MP has been cold to the project, its previous MP, David Cameron, was enthusiastic.

I continue to work hard on the project, as I think it's the only way forward. My background in finance is a big help and I'm now a district councillor—responsible for planning and sustainable development, so I can push from the inside.

Thanks to a terrible deal made by WODC in 2018, thousands more houses are already coming at us here in West Oxfordshire. Nor is there any let-up in sight. Oxford continues to boom and developers continue to eye our green fields for housing. Even when local councillors vote against a project, property developers appeal and national inspectors come and override our decisions because of the national housing shortage.

The bottom line is that even once the bus lanes currently planned on the A40 are complete, car traffic is set to be another 30 minutes slower by 2031. We have an opportunity now to take decisions that will help West Oxfordshire over many decades. We need to grab it.

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