East West Rail is a transport infrastructure project intended to support economic growth and job creation in the region between Oxford and Cambridge. The project aims to improve rail connections between the two cities, Milton Keynes and intervening towns, creating new connections and stations along the route and reducing journey times. The improved connectivity is intended to make more of the region attractive to businesses and new housing development, supporting growth and jobs.

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In developing its transport infrastructure plans, DfT and EWR Co have assessed how the East West Rail project can help support economic growth in the region, identifying constraints on growth such as the following.

  • A lack of space, with laboratory and commercial space almost exhausted in Cambridge and Oxford
  • A limited labour market, meaning businesses cannot access the workforce and skills they need to grow
  • The impact of high living costs on families and businesses, with housing costs making it difficult for businesses to attract staff and relocate

In July 2023, DLUHC announced a new long-term plan for housing in the region. This includes plans to support economic growth through the expansion of Cambridge, creating space for housing and businesses.

Scope of the report

We conducted this investigation in response to correspondence from a member of Parliament raising concerns about the East West Rail business case and the strategic need for the project, which may have been affected by DLUHC’s announcement in July 2023 of new plans for growth in Cambridge.

This report sets out the following:

  • The changing context for the East West Rail project
  • DfT’s assessment of the case for investing in the East West Rail project
  • The arrangements in place to deliver the intended benefits

Our report does not examine progress with delivery of infrastructure on the route or the management of the project by EWR Co. We do not seek to form a value-for-money judgement on the East West Rail project, nor have we have undertaken a detailed assessment of the project’s business case. We conducted our fieldwork in October 2023. We reviewed documents and data held by DfT and DLUHC, and held interviews with officials in DfT, EWR Co, DLUHC and HM Treasury.


East West Rail represents a £6-7 billion investment to support growth in a part of the UK that the government regards as economically important, but it is not yet clear how the benefits of the project will be achieved nor how it aligns to other government plans for growth in the region. As with many transport projects, the rationale for East West Rail does not rest on the strength of the benefit–cost ratio for the project alone – which is poor – but on its wider strategic aim of overcoming constraints to economic growth in the Oxford–Cambridge region.

This rationale has underpinned DfT’s decisions to approve and continue with the project to date. However, achieving the necessary value from the government’s investment in East West Rail will require stronger strategic alignment across government. Improved communication and joint working between central government and local bodies are needed to overcome barriers to progress and achieve the goals of the project over the long term.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (13 Dec 2023)

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