Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Milton Keynes Strategic Position and Transport Dilemma

Dear Councillors and Colleagues,

The 50th anniversary of Milton Keynes, the advent of the English Economic Heartlands, the SEMLEP, East-West Rail on-coming and the growth of footfall, reach, range and diversity should indicate we need to have a robust rail system to cater for all this socio-economic activity and the weight on the landscape and environment which affects us all sooner or later. The reality is that there is little spare capacity between Rugby and Watford on the West Coast Main Line and so we have a queue of trains seeking more access to Milton Keynes Central but which cannot e.g.
1. West London Southern's restricted to 1 per hour rather than half hourly frequency due to no spare paths. Surely given the popularity of contra commuting to Milton Keynes via the Central Station should put it at the front of the queue for and were any spare paths available for a half hourly frequency? Yet it has been waiting for years! MK Central lacks baying facilities commensurate to the number of trains seeking access to it and sitting on the through tracks of Platform 2 blocks access by other trains. 
2. Others seeking paths to MK Central are the Bedford-Bletchley out of Platform 5 at Bletchley to MK Central for Virgin connections. Ideas of the Holyhead express trains stopping at Bletchley to give the area back some express services which have inevitably led to decline in status and connectivity remain just ideas unless there's a tabling of such at meetings and explorations of what can give or take to spread the wealth, the load and opportunities more, without robbing Peter to pay Paul so to speak. East-West Rail will want to access MK Central via the flyover at Bletchley from Aylesbury. Northampton Councils now table the idea of a Northampton-MK-Old Oak Common/Crossrail north-south service over East-West Tracks.

In short if these goals are to be achieved you have to create more capacity on the West Coast Main Line, you have to support alternative route options and loops commensurate to creating the slack required alongside port-London freight and so on. Something has got to give.

3. On freight, there was a view that with the East-West Rail Central Section (Bedford-Sandy-Cambridge) you could send Felixstowe - West Midlands freight via that route to the Midland Main Line through Bedford via St John's and via a curve south at Leicester to West Midlands and other destinations and vice versa. That would take a considerable amount of freight trains which currently go into, across and out of London, through MK Central to elsewhere, paths and capacity which could be used by other passenger and freight by rail services. 

The reality is that apart from a need to install a road bridge over the railway corridor at Cardington Road, Bedford, the trackbed for a rail link east of Bedford is distinguishable for 4.5 out of 10 miles east of Bedford St John's. 20 years ago Steer Davis Gleave looked at all the routes and options and little has changed since then except what nature and man does incrementally if nothing is happening. Fallow is not a static situation, whims and winds of developer eye and aspiration fuel the drive to develop and that can impact on landscapes. In 1993 the Inspector at Side Roads Order 199 Bedford Southern A421 Bypass said that in the event of pursuit of reopening the railway the DfT/Highways Authority would give favourable consideration to providing rail access over or under the said bypass. It is time to call their bluff and demand that this is the time to do so as now, unlike then, there's a consensus for reopening the railway.

4. Bedford-Olney-Northampton would benefit Milton Keynes by:
a. providing a loop between Northampton-Bedford-Bletchley/EWRL
b. By offerring seats to commuters at Olney/A509/A428 areas, freeing up parking and seats at MK Central and Bedford respectively
c. allowing some non-time critical trains to traverse the loop created, freeing up more paths at MK Central.

If you allow piecemeal housing or other development to encroach the Handley Alignment or block as to be beyond recovery the two sides of the railway east and west of Olney Northern Perimeter, you throw away and lock in a set of dysfunctional aspects which in a context of growth will compound rather than cure. The railway would enable more options on east-west freight, feed East-West Rail with more business and cut unnecessary road driving milages making commuting and drive time closer to home. We need your support and action to save the day on this one which includes:
a. stopping current and future development
b. studying a recoverable railway route and station access and parking site and protecting it as a greenbelt
c. getting Bedford and Northampton to a table and agreeing a common route policy of protection and support to the principle of reopening sooner or later
d. investing via English Economic Heartlands or other collective agency contributions to studying the case and credentials for example to go from Northampton-Bedford by rail via Bletchley takes 1.5 hours and costs about £20, No. 41 bus takes same amount of time but costs about £6. The railway would transit Northampton-Bedford in just 30 minutes, Olney commuting options with more visitors, footfall and spend reviving the ailing town economy on a sustainable basis. It is therefore much in Milton Keynes' interest to support Bedford-Northampton strategically please and grow a coalition of support to take it onwards akin to how the East-West Rail Consortium has done. Even if an afterthought, unless we crack the Olney conundrum, and act now, it will be lost.

More information about ERTA can be found on our Blogspot:
I attach a flyer which explains some more and a map showing what is where in basic conceptual terms. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Pill

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