A MAJOR new rail initiative to link the Evesham and north Cotswold areas direct by rail to Birmingham has been launched.

The project would see the reopening of a disused rail line linking Honeybourne, on the Cotswold Line, with Stratford upon Avon, making 60-minute journeys between Evesham and Birmingham a reality.

Worcestershire County Council is leading a £10,000 study that will look at the economic impact of reopening the line, which was closed in 1976.

Two rail users groups, the Cotswold Line Promotion Group and the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group, have joined forces to support the project as concern grows about some 5,900 new homes that are due to be built in the area by 2031

Recent increases in housing in the area have already seen Cotswold Line stations at Honeybourne and Moreton in Marsh suffer an increase in passengers above the national average, with lack of car parking at the stations becoming a real problem.

If the line were to reopen, stations along the Cotswold Line would get a direct service to and from Stratford, with connections to Solihull, Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Reinstating the railway between Stratford and Honeybourne would also allow service linking Stratford, Oxford, Reading and London Paddington.

Fraser Pithie, secretary of the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group said: “We welcome the study. Proper consideration of a scheme that could reduce congestion on rural roads in the villages of north Gloucestershire, east Worcestershire and south Warwickshire is crucial in the face of proposed housing numbers.

"A potential 60-minute direct rail service between Evesham and Birmingham would also be a major boost to the Vale and a 45-minute direct rail journey between a new Long Marston Parkway and Birmingham would reduce work/home journeys."

He said the groups will also press for the doubling of the remaining single-line sections of the Cotswold Line between Worcester and Oxford, which will increase the line's carrying capacity.