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'We are open to public-private partnerships on East West Rail,' transport secretary tells CN

The government will consider public-private partnerships with contractors to deliver the multi-million-pound East West Rail line project, the transport secretary has said.

Chris Grayling told Construction News he was looking for new innovative ways of delivering the Oxford to Cambridge line and would not rule out potential public-private partnerships.

On Tuesday, Mr Grayling outlined his plans to shake up the way the country’s rail network works by bringing track and train operations back together.

The plans also included the creation of new organisation called East West Rail – separate from Network Rail – to oversee the delivery and operation of the proposed line linking Oxford to Cambridge.

Mr Grayling said he wanted the route to act as a “test bed” for different ways of delivering rail projects more rapidly.

He said: “We take too long to build projects in this country; I want to see whether by trying to do something differently we can make this happen quicker.”

The East West Rail organisation will officially begin its work in the New Year, with its first job being to speed up the delivery of the western section of the line between Oxford and Bedford.

Mr Grayling said East West Rail would then look to get private sector companies involved in the design, build and operation the route.

Network Rail non-executive director Rob Brighouse has been appointed chairman of East West Rail.

The former Chiltern Railways boss has experience of securing private finance for rail upgrades after heading up Chiltern Railways’ Project Evergreen.

This project secured private funding for a number of infrastructure upgrades on the lines between London and the Midlands.

Chiltern Railways also signed a design, build and finance contract with John Laing for the scheme – the first of its kind on the UK’s railways.

The project was fully procured by Chiltern Railways and sold back to Network Rail at a pre-agreed price, which meant Network Rail took on no construction risk.

Asked whether Network Rail would be asked to maintain the line once complete, Mr Grayling said that would be up to East West Rail but stressed he wanted the construction and running of the line to be a “standalone operation”.

He said he could foresee a situation where train operating companies partnered with infrastructure firms when bidding for the operation of the line.

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