A missing piece of the rail network jigsaw which could connect Norfolk and Suffolk to the west and key mainline routes has moved a step closer after transport bosses have given it their support.

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A Department for Transport document has stated its aim to build a line between Cambridge and Bedford, which could eventually see direct trains from Norwich and Ipswich to Oxford, meaning travellers would not have to go via London.

Funding has already been found to re-open the line between Bedford and Oxford by 2017, but a new study published by the Department of Transport state in black and white for the first that the Bedford to Cambridge link is seen by them as a “potential new line”.

However it is not yet clear how the route would be funded as no money has been promised for the scheme.

The East West Rail Consortium, which was formed in 1995 in a bid to re-instate an Cambridge to Oxford rail link, has commissioned Atkins to identify the how the region would benefit if the transport between Bedford and Cambridge was improved.

A spokeswoman said: “It has been a long-term aim of the consortium to re-establish a rail link between Bedford and Cambridge to enable rail services to run on to East Anglia but to date no preferred route has been identified.”

Chris Starkie, managing director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The development of a direct East-West service between Oxford and Cambridge which will link to Norwich and Ipswich is a priority in the East Anglia Rail Prospectus, so this is welcome news. We are keen to see much better East-West links to connect our scientific centres of excellence with Cambridge and Oxford, supporting growth and new jobs.”

Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman, who has been campaigning for a better link between Norwich and Cambridge, said it moved the aspiration of a “life sciences line” - linking Norwich, Cambridge and Oxford - one step closer.

“The political pressure that we have been putting on means ministers and officials are prioritising the Norwich to Oxford link, and this is part of that. But we still have work to do to get funding for the Bedford to Cambridge bit.”

He said that is was important for the Norwich Research Park, Europe’s biggest integrated life science cluster in food medicine and energy, to be better connected to the Oxford and Cambridge clusters.

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