Chancellor announces investment in Oxford-Cambridge rail link

Government investment in Oxford will include train links and research grants

In this week’s autumn statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer an­nounced the reintroduction of a rail­way line between Oxford and Cam­bridge, which will run for the first time since 1993.

The railway line, parts of which had been operational since 1845, was investigated by the National Infra­structure Commission in March for the potential of a “knowledge-inten­sive cluster that competes on a glob­al stage” in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford “corridor”.

In Wednesday’s Autumn State­ment, Philip Hammond announced that the government “accepts the recommendation for the Oxford-Cambridge expressway” and will provide £27m in development funding for the project, along with £100m of funding for the East-West line’s western section, and £10m for the central rail station.

The railway line will have stations between Oxford and Cambridge, in­cluding at Milton Keynes, Bedford, and other towns currently part of the Stagecoach X5 route. The ‘corri­dor’ between Oxford and Cambridge is home to 3.3 million people, and what the NIC named “some of the most productive, successful and fast-growing cities in the United King­dom”.

The infrastructure recommen­dations also include £27m of road-building, which came as part of a wider programme of road and transport investment in the Autumn Statement. The government will spend a total of £135m in the Oxford-Cambridge corridor in the 2018-19 budget, the statement revealed.

The last section of the railway line between the UK’s oldest universi­ties, colloquially named the “Varsity Line”, was decommissioned in 1993 after faster, high-speed trains to Lon­don from Oxford and Cambridge made it faster to travel between the cities via the capital. The investment will join HS2 and other rail projects, which make up a substantial amount of the government’s infrastructure spending in this year’s statement.

The announcement came in the same week that Theresa May an­nounced a £2bn government fund for UK university research, named the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. It will fund research into areas that the UK has the chance to “excel” at, including biotechnology and ro­botics.

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May said the money was to ensure that British businesses remain at the cutting edge of scientific discovery and came as part of a modern and ambitious industrial strategy. She said that the new strategy was about “making the most of the historic opportunity we now have to signal an important, determined change”.

Lord John Krebs, Oxford Professor of Zoology and former principal of Jesus College, said that as he under­stood it, the government agency UK Research and Innovation will have “considerable discretion over how the money will be spent, having re­gard for priority areas”.

The investment fund for research will go some way to counterbalance money leaving UK academia as a re­sult of the UK’s departure from the European Union, it is claimed. Jer­emy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said, “As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, it will also be critical to remain attractive to the international talent that science and innovation require.”

The University of Oxford took 12 percent of its research funding from the European Union last year.

Both investments impact Oxford, which forms a central part of the government’s investment strategy in both business and academic re­search, particularly in the sciences. According to the Prime Minister, it­ will help the UK become part of the “cutting edge of scientific discovery” and to have a “modern and ambi­tious industrial strategy”.