We need a fast, sustainable, reliable transport solution linking Carterton, Witney, Eynsham with Oxford and beyond. The A40 is a 'foot on the windpipe' of West Oxfordshire and I believe rail is the solution. Passenger rail services to Witney stopped in the 1960s and today, these towns represent one of the largest populations in the country without a rail link. This has severe social, economic and environmental consequences for us all.
In October 2021, I became chair of the voluntary, not for profit, cross-party Witney Oxford Transport Group and since then I've worked flat out to develop this project. We conducted a resident’s survey, which showed that 97% of the more than 900 respondents said that they supported a feasibility study being conducted. I led WOT Group’s work to identify and define a viable route. In 2021 and 2022 we commissioned three technical studies: two studies addressed route challenges and one focussed on funding. These studies gave the county council sufficient comfort to commission a feasibility study and explore funding options. I'm working hard with colleagues to develop the next steps from here including an Options Development Report and integrating the rail project into the district's Local Plan.
Clearly this is a large and ambitious project. There are the obvious transport benefits but there are many others too. It will allow us to have much better planning in our district. Instead of haphazardly putting hundreds of houses across our various villages which are unable to cope with this growth, we will be able to place housing near stations, making West Oxfordshire a much better and more convenient place to work, live and play. It will attract high paying, highly skilled jobs into the district, reducing the need for people to travel out for work.
The rail route hugs the A40 for the great majority of time, minimising the impact on the countryside and maximising the ability to take cars off the road. We are advocating battery powered trains, which are quiet, already in commercial use, have no pollution on site and have no unsightly overhead lines.
I believe that we maximise the project's probability of success by moving quickly forward, one step at a time, building support locally amongst residents and other stakeholders.