Marston Vale line

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Marston Vale line
Two diesel trains pass each other in Ridgmont station.jpg
London Midland diesel multiple units 153346 (left) and 150105 pass at Ridgmont railway station in Bedfordshire
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) West Midlands Trains
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
6.6 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–Hitchin line
to Hitchin
Bedford St Johns
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). Much of the line was built on land owned by the 7th Duke of Bedford, who supported the line but insisted that any station on his estate (Fenny Stratford, Woburn Sands, Ridgmont and Millbrook) be constucted in half-timbered style.[2]

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 that electrification of more of Britain's rail network be considered.[3] By 1979 British Rail presented a range of options to do so by 2000,[4] some of which included the Marston Vale line.[5] 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.

London Midland took over in 2007 until 9/12/2017. They used a mixture of Class 150/1 and Class 153 multiple units, inherited from Silverlink.

On 10 December 2017, West Midlands Trains took over the franchise, staff and rolling stock, operating as London Northwestern Railway.


The line is part of the Network Rail Strategic Route 18, SRS 18.12 and is classified as a rural line.[6]

Passenger services are operated by West Midlands Trains, 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.

From December 2018, West Midlands Trains were to introduce Class 230 D-Trains, built by Vivarail, onto the route, replacing the current trains,[7] but the introduction has been delayed.[8]


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).[6] The line's signalling centre is at Ridgmont.

Proposed developments

East West Rail

The Marston Vale line is one of the two remaining sections of the Varsity line still in passenger use.[9] The programme to reinstate the entire Oxford-Cambridge line is described at East West Rail.

Extension to Milton Keynes Central

In June 2005, the then franchisee, Silverlink Trains announced an intention to extend the Marston Vale service via the West Coast Main Line to Milton Keynes Central, where a new platform and track would be built alongside the up slow track. Work began on 4 December 2006 at the station to prepare for a service connection.[10][11] The platform was ready for use in January 2009 but the service did not materialise and there are no longer any published plans for it to do so. The service pattern on East West Rail remains to be announced; specifically whether there will be an explicit Bedford–Milton Keynes service or whether passengers will continue to have to change at Bletchley. As of January 2018, there exists no east-to-north chord between this line and the WCML: the route the chord would take is currently[a] occupied by trade outlets and a warehouse.[b]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Bedford Railway"Disused Stations Site Record; Retrieved 7 September 2016
  2. ^ Wade-Matthews, Max (2000). Classic Railway Journeys of the West. London: Lorenz Books. pp. 82–83. ISBN 0-7548-0624-3.
  3. ^ Anonymous 1979, p. 0.
  4. ^ Anonymous 1979, p. 2.
  5. ^ Anonymous 1979, p. 8.
  6. ^ a b "Route 18 – West Coast Main Line" (PDF). Network Rail. 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
  7. ^ "New Marston Vale livery revealed as contract for new trains is signed". 2018-08-22. Retrieved 2018-09-11.
  8. ^ "Vivarail official statement – Marston Vale line". Vivarail. 30 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  9. ^ "East West Rail Grip Stage 2 Report" (PDF). p. 38. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 September 2008. |section= ignored (help)
  10. ^ "UK transport news, data and jobs". Transport Briefing. Archived from the original on 26 September 2007.
  11. ^ "New Rail Platform on Time for 2008". Milton Keynes News. 6 December 2006. [dead link]
  1. ^ as of May 2018
  2. ^ on Third Avenue and James Way, Denbigh West


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

External links

  • Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership
  • East West Rail Link consortium

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

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