A second major engineering intervention would also be needed at Long Marston, where a light industrial estate has been constructed on the formation for approximately 300 metres. However, the Arup report identified that there is sufficient room to deviate the line slightly to the east, with provision made for a new station and grade separation with Station Road (to replace the former level crossing).
A head-on connection is then required with the existing freight-only line from Long Marston to Honeybourne Junction, which enters the Long Marston storage complex at its southern end. This 2.3-mile section of line would need redoubling and extensive track renewal, plus the reinstatement of Honeybourne eastern chord.
The optimal service was determined by Arup to be for two trains per hour running south from Stratford, one to Oxford for connections to Paddington, and the other to Worcester. There would also be capacity for the Long Marston rail complex’s freight traffic and the ocasional passenger charter.
Great Western Railway has already expressed interest in running at least one of these services, and included this desire in its North Cotswold Vision document released in February 2016.
The document outlines the operator’s ambition to increase frequency from one to two trains per hour along the largely singled Cotswold Main Line route from Oxford to Worcester. It seeks infrastructure enhancement to take place in Control Period 6 (April 2019-March 2024), costing up to £275m.
The Cotswold Main Line and Honeybourne reinstatement schemes are viewed by campaigners as very much inter-dependent, and it’s easy to see that both BCRs would be significantly increased should one or the other be given the go-ahead.
Services south of Stratford require the extra capacity on the Cotswold Main Line in order to run to Oxford or Worcester, while the £275m cost of providing the requisite infrastructure could be more justified if the business case were to include the economic benefits it will bring to Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as to communities already served by the line.
Reinstating the line might also strengthen calls to reopen the former route south of Honeybourne Junction to Cheltenham (closed in 1969). This route is partially occupied by the Gloucester & Warwickshire Steam Railway, which operates 12 miles of track between Cheltenham and Laverton, and which is hopeful of extending further north.
Since 2012, the reopening campaign has been steadily gaining in public, political and business support under the leadership of Fraser Pithie (Shakespeare Line Promotion Group), John Ellis (Cotswold Line Promotion Group) and John Morgan (Stratford Rail Transport Group).
However, it has reached an impasse. Despite it securing the backing of the district council, local MPs, and the neighbouring Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire county councils, the all-important decision-makers at Warwickshire County Council have yet to be persuaded of its merits.
Under Network Rail guidelines, Warwickshire County Council (WCC) is required to promote the scheme through the GRIP process. The authority’s backing is also essential if funds are to be released from Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) to fund this costly exercise.
With GRIP 3 completed by the Arup report in 2012, the district council made an application in 2015 for £500,000 funding for a GRIP 4 study (single option selection). This was rejected by CWLEP, while papers released by WCC as recently as late January concerning the Stratford Area Transport Strategy fail to make any substantive reference to the reinstatement plan.
RAIL has also seen correspondence from WCC in which it refuses to engage with a GRIP 4 study, and it appeared indifferent to an offer made by Cala Homes to contribute £400,000 to support this critical step.
The lack of support from WCC seems inexplicable, especially given the strength of support the campaign enjoys elsewhere. This has been demonstrated yet again by a recent agreement made by a number of local councils to fund an Economic Impact Study (which is required to complement a GRIP 4 study).
More promisingly, a direct appeal made by the campaigners to NR Chief Executive Mark Carne has led to a pledge to arrange a discussion and to bring all parties to the table in early 2017. But one must wonder how long WCC can ignore the case to reopen the line, given the large-scale housing development taking place on its doorstep and Stratford’s historic dependence on visitors for its economic prosperity.
Whether its position changes or not, RAIL is happy to lend its voice to promote such a worthy reinstatement scheme that is indeed a ‘no-brainer’.