IMPROVEMENTS on Oxfordshire’s railways will look more like ‘evolution rather than revolution’ when they eventually come into play, the county council has warned.

It came as Network Rail confirmed vast improvements to Oxford’s station are still being planned, and work to reopen the Cowley Branch Line is still ongoing.

Plans to reopen the branch line to passengers were drawn up last year in the hope of passengers using it in 2019, but that will not happen.

The county council’s leader Ian Hudspeth said using the line again was a ‘no-brainer’ and it has got cross-party support across the city.

Yesterday, Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds walked from Cowley to Oxford station to highlight areas it would benefit.

She said she is confident that the line will reopen – and that it is ‘just a question of time’ when that will be.

Ms Dodds said: “Everyone says they support it. It’s just a question of getting funding to get it running.”

The line has been closed to passengers since 1963 but is still used by BMW for freight.

Stations could be built in or around Oxford Business Park and Oxford Science Park.

READ MORE: Oxford Science Park could accommodate new train station

Susan Brown, the city council’s leader, said improving rail around Oxford is something that must be ‘made a reality’.

While the city council’s chief executive, Gordon Mitchell, said an improved station would ‘provide an appropriate gateway’ to Oxford and would ‘underpin much-needed rail improvement’.

That would ‘enable a shift away from cars and road journeys and connect people across the region’, Mr Mitchell said.

Elsewhere, a new station in Grove should open to support the growing village, the county council has said.

John Disley, the county council’s infrastructure, strategy and policy manager, told the Oxfordshire Growth Board last week: “A lot of this will require commitment on growth coming forward. We’ve already got that in our Local Plans.

“A lot of the evidence base has demonstrated how Oxford’s commitment to housing and growth is going to lead to additional rail investment and those two things need to work together.”

But he warned the pace of change would be slower than hoped and would resemble 'evolution rather than revolution'.

The pace of change could be slowed down as early as next week. South Oxfordshire District Council’s Local Plan – which the authority claims would build thousands more homes than is required – could be rejected by councillors on Thursday.

Other councils fear that would mean the government pulls the £215m Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal, leaving some critical projects without planned funding.

Some money has already been allocated from that – such as £500,000 on design work to widen the Botley Road railway bridge, next to Oxford station.

Mr Disley said there are other possible ‘connectivity opportunities’ that could link up other Oxfordshire towns together by rail.

READ AGAIN: Oxford's Cowley Branch Line railway could be open by next year

‘Interesting’ potential connections include potentially linking Bicester and Didcot, where there is no direct service.

But Mr Disley said technical work must still be done to improve the Cowley Branch Line before anything ‘significant’ can happen.

Mr Hudspeth said the lack of progress over recent years showed how ‘difficult’ it has been to achieve rail improvements.

He said: “The Cowley Branch Line is a complete no-brainer. It’s almost five years ago that the Oxford Mail had a fantastic front page with me stepping off the train at the station we mocked up, proving that the Cowley Branch Line could be done. That’s five years that Network Rail have yet to progress the scheme.

“Yet I continually lobby for it with every conversation I have with people from Network Rail and we try to progress that. It is frustrating.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are currently working with Oxfordshire County Council and the Department for Transport on the Oxfordshire Rail Corridor Study, which will analyse how rail travel in the area will grow over the next few decades, including what type of upgrades may be required and any potential new stations and services that could be provided to meet demand.

“The study will be concluded later this year and includes an assessment of the potential to reopen the Cowley Branch Line to passenger services.”

Recent rail improvements in the county include a £315,000 building that includes a waiting room and customers toilets at Hanborough station in West Oxfordshire.