Marston Vale line

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Marston Vale line
Type Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Buckinghamshire
South East England
East of England
Termini Bedford
Stations 12
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) London Midland
Rolling stock British Rail Class 150
British Rail Class 153
Line length ~24 mi (39 km)
Number of tracks 1–2
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Marston Vale Line
Varsity Line
to Bicester Village
Swanbourne Siding
West Coast Main Line
to Euston
0 mi 04 ch
0.08 km
West Coast Main Line
to Milton Keynes Central
1 mi 05 ch
1.71 km
Fenny Stratford
2 mi 05 ch
3.32 km
Bow Brickhill
4 mi 08 ch
6.60 km
Woburn Sands
5 mi 04 ch
8.13 km
Aspley Guise
6 mi 59 ch
10.84 km
8 mi 49 ch
13.86 km
10 mi 05 ch
16.19 km
11 mi 17 ch
18.04 km
12 mi 76 ch
20.84 km
Kempston Hardwick
Midland Main Line
to St Pancras International
16 mi 05 ch
25.85 km
Bedford St Johns
Bedford to Hitchin Line
to Hitchin
Bedford St Johns(former)
16 mi 55 ch
26.86 km
Varsity Line
to Cambridge
Midland Main Line
to Leicester

The Marston Vale line (Network Rail route MD 140) is the community rail line between Bletchley and Bedford in England, formerly part of the "Varsity line" between Oxford and Cambridge.


The line was opened in 1846 by the London and Birmingham Railway, though the L&B merged with the Grand Junction Railway to become the London and North Western Railway whilst construction was ongoing – the LNWR ran it from its opening.[1] The line later became part of the cross-country Varsity line from Oxford Rewley Road to Cambridge (opened in stages between 1854 and 1862). The line was threatened in the late 1950s and again in 1964 – though the Bletchley to Oxford and Bedford to Cambridge sections succumbed in December 1967, the Bletchley to Bedford section survived.[1]

In 1977 the Parliamentary Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended considering electrification of more of Britain's rail network.[2] By 1979 BR presented a range of options to do so by 2000,[3] some of which included the Marston Vale line.[4] Under the 1979–90 Conservative governments that succeeded the 1976–79 Labour government, the proposal was not implemented.

Silverlink operated the line from privatisation in 1996 until 2007. Services were initially in the hands of a mixture of heritage slam-door diesel multiple units formed of 2-car Class 117 and single-car Class 121 units until replacement with Class 150/1 trains inherited from Central Trains.


The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 18, SRS 18.12 and is classified as a rural line.[5]

Passenger services are operated by London Midland, using Class 153 single-car diesel multiple units and two-car class 150 unit. An hourly service operates in each direction Monday–Saturday.

It is one of a number of British Railways that is covered by a Community Rail Partnership, in this case known as the Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership. Like other Community Rail Partnerships around the country, the Partnership aims to increase use of the line by getting local people involved with their local line. They do this by various means, such as holding community events, running special train services, and publicising the line locally.


Apart from a short length of single track at both ends, the line is double track, and is not electrified (barring short lengths at either end). It has a loading gauge of W8 and a line speed of 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).[5] The line's signalling centre is at Ridgmont.

Proposed developments[edit]

East West Rail Link[edit]

Main article: East West Rail Link

The Marston Vale line is one of the two remaining sections of the Varsity line still in passenger use.[6] In the 2011 Autumn Statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced the allocation of £270 million for the East West Rail Consortium to reinstate the Oxford–Bletchley–Bedford section of the Varsity line. The semi-fast service will link the Marston Vale line (calling at Bedford, Ridgmont, Woburn Sands and Bletchley only) to Winslow, Bicester Village, Oxford and Reading or Didcot.[7][8] The Consortium hopes later to reopen the Bedford — Cambridge section, for which a new route may be required.[9]

On 16 July 2012 the Coalition Government announced that the Marston Vale route would be electrified, as will the currently disused line from Bletchley to Oxford. This would form part of a wider "Electric Spine" stretching from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to Southampton and South Coast Ports.[10] The rebuilt Oxford  – Bletchley section is to be electrified by 2019 but Bletchley – Bedford electrification will 'probably' be done by 2024.[11]

Extension to Milton Keynes Central[edit]

In June 2005, Silverlink announced their intent to extend their Marston Vale service via the West Coast Main Line to Milton Keynes Central, where a new platform and track would be built (alongside the slow mainline "up" track). On 4 December 2006, work began at Milton Keynes Central to prepare for a service connection from the Marston Vale line.[12][13] The platform was ready for use in January 2009 but this service has yet (as of August 2016) to materialise and there are no longer any published plans to do so, however, a few trains ran from Bedford through to Milton Keynes on Sunday 17 July 2016 due to the Bedford river festival taking place, but London Midland have yet to commit to making it part of their regular timetable. [A service from Oxford on the East West Rail Link is, however, in plan].


  1. ^ a b "Bedford Railway"Disused Stations Site Record; Retrieved 7 September 2016
  2. ^ Anonymous Winter 1979, p. 0.
  3. ^ Anonymous Winter 1979, p. 2.
  4. ^ Anonymous Winter 1979, p. 8.
  5. ^ a b "Route 18 – West Coast Main Line" (PDF). Network Rail. 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  6. ^ "East West Rail Grip Stage 2 Report" (PDF). p. 38.  |section= ignored (help)
  7. ^ "East West Rail Prospectus" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2011. 
  8. ^ "RAIL" (685). 14–28 December 2011: 10–11. 
  9. ^ "East West Rail: Central section map". Retrieved 15 December 2011. 
  10. ^ "Investing in rail, investing in jobs and growth". Retrieved 11 January 2013. 
  11. ^ Will East West Rail be electrified and if so, when? Will East West Rail be electrified and if so, when? Eastwest Rail: Frequently Asked Questions
  12. ^ "UK transport news, data and jobs". Transport Briefing. 
  13. ^ "New Rail Platform on Time for 2008". Milton Keynes News. 6 December 2006. [dead link]


  • Anonymous (Winter 1979). Railway Electrification. British Railways Board (Central Publicity Unit). pp. 0–2, 8. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°01′21″N 0°36′53″W / 52.02249°N 0.61478°W / 52.02249; -0.61478