Bedford-Northampton (Cobbler) Line

luton-and-other-select-pics-20140010Northampton (population approximately 200,000) is half-way between London and Birmingham off the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and Bedford (population approx. 150,000), is on the Thameslink/Midland Main Lines. There is a 20-mile gap between Northampton and Bedford, and half-way between these towns is Olney (population 6500 but with a 5-mile catchment of villages totalling 33,000). Bedford has services to Luton Airport, Luton and London (St.Pancras), Gatwick Airport and Brighton, whilst Northampton has services to Birmingham via Rugby, and London (Euston). The two towns stare at each other, but the gap means awkward travels by lengthy bus (1.5 hours each way with congestion) and the service is not commensurate to the timetable of the railway. Different operators means different and not transferable ticketing and changes means delays and cost. Traffic queues form on the A428 into Bedford, whilst Northampton suffers gridlock with A14 (Felixstowe-Thrapston)-A45 to Northampton/M1.


We are seeking reopening of this rail link, this missing 20-mile gap in the rail network. It would link 4 airports (Gatwick, Luton, Coventry and Birmingham), one train, one ticket, and offer more joined-up options. However despite our best efforts, the Local Authorities are not showing the sort of interest we would wish for. They don’t seem interested, committed or talking to each other to find common ground for route protection for example. Laissez-faire development without proper safeguarding of the route means it is subject to development encroaching on it and on deviation space making reopening prohibitive. DfT tells us to consult local government, but local government seems to have no enforcement or mandatory obligation to listen, respond congenially or adopt route protection policies. Whatever is on paper, is not translating to the grassroots in actioning terms.

We face an inner road scheme at Northampton, piecemeal development and multiple development threats at Olney, and Bedford junctioning remains under a cloud of uncertainty. The railway would play a role in creating more capacity through Milton Keynes Central Station in terms of a loop off the West Coast Main Line (Bletchley-Bedford-Northampton/Rugby) and feed more business into the supported East-West Rail link (Oxford-Bedford-Cambridge/Corby). This scheme (Bedford-Olney-Northampton dubbed ‘The Cobbler Line’) needs professional support, interest and champions. We should not let a strategic corridor be assassinated by piecemeal developments of dubious worth and we therefore ask you to help us get the official and strategic support we need. We would welcome any offers or expressions of interest.

Some people who question demand must realise that Northampton people heading to Cambridge either go via A45 and A14 or A428 through Bedford. Only a 30-minute end to end time of a Thameslink style train could offer robust time savings and lure them out of their cars onto public transport. To think they would prefer to pay more to go by rail to Bletchley and then on to Bedford is to suggest they would willingly pay more and have over 1.5 hours duration. Bedford-Olney-Northampton offers quick access to Bedford and Luton Airport and vice versa to Northampton. We are seeking new people to come aboard and offer leadership to progress our campaign. This could include meetings, giving power point talks, manning stalls or making case study reports. Build your own team, we will support all the way. Further enquiries welcome:

A 5-mile radius of Olney is a population of 33, 000, Northampton over 200, 000 and Bedford 170, 000; if we can’t make rail a main carrier in this theatre then it is a poor show. Together we can do better.

See: New infrastructure on Northampton’s horizon

Here is an excellent historical account of the Northampton – Olney – Bedford line.

Further reading

Get Involved

  • Help support this line – contact us.
  • Join ERTA – every member helps make us a louder shout for more of what we may wish for. Please see Membership page for more information.
  • Write to the following expressing your support and why the rail link should be restored:
  1. MPs Mohammed Yasin (Bedford and Kempston), Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire), Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire – constituency includes Turvey), Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North), Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire), David Mackintosh (Northampton South) and Michael Ellis (Northampton North) c/o House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA
  2. Councillor Charles Roydon, Portfolio Holder for Transport and the Environment, Bedford Borough Council, Borough Hall, Cauldwell Street, Bedford, MK42 9AP
  3. Mr Chris Wragg, Team Leader, Transport Planning, Northamptonshire County Council, Northamptonshire Highways, Riverside House, Riverside Way, Northampton NN1 5NX
  • Offer time and talent – if you want to get involved we have volunteer opportunities and whilst we welcome reliability and enthusiasm, we welcome any special focus’ or skills. At the moment we are looking to grow a team to help with Northampton-Bedford: We need:
    • Northampton area reps
    • Northampton leafleters
    • Trackbed watchers for all along the line, (monitoring the planning submissions to give us early warning of potential threats and reference numbers, so we can keep on objecting, whilst making the case to win on side support for the railway), can be offered in chunks: – Northampton Castle-Brackmills, Brackmills-Great Houghton-Piddington, Piddington-Olney Yardley Road, Olney Industrial Estate-A509-Lavendon Road-River Great Ouse, Clifton Reynes-Newton Blossomville-Station End Turvey, Turvey-Oakley Junction.
    • People willing to research and put a PowerPoint presentation together, making a case for reopening and giving talks to groups, parishes and outlets recruiting members and support.
    • Area Reps for A428, A509, Olney

    Please contact us.

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