TRANSPORT secretary Chris Grayling said the new rail line between Oxford and Cambridge will 'transform' travel for passengers in the county when it opens in five years' time.

Mt Grayling visited Bicester yesterday to see progress on the East West Rail line.

Early work is already under way on the section between Bicester and Bedford in an effort to link up the UK's two top university cities after the Varsity Line was shut in the 1960s.

Mr Grayling, who visited Launton Junction to see work for himself, compared the possible impact to that of the Chiltern Line, between London Marylebone and Birmingham.

He said: "This is going to be a commuter railway, like the Chiltern Line. This is a line that will deliver people to work in Oxford, in Bletchley, in Milton Keynes, and will enable people in between to get around by train when currently they have to go by car."

The new railway line between Oxford and Bedford could be open as early as 2023 and Mr Grayling said he was fully supportive of the project.

Mr Grayling added: “East West Rail will transform journeys in one of Europe’s most vibrant economic regions, providing passengers and businesses with a transport system that unlocks economic opportunity and drives forward new housing and jobs."

Work on the line is planned to start - following the completion of the enabling work - by September 2019.

But Mr Grayling said critics who had been angered that the line will be diesel-powered were 'missing the point'.

He added: "We're on the edge of a rail power revolution. I was in Berlin seeing the new power technology in development of battery trains, of hydrogen trains. [East West Rail] won't be a conventional diesel-powered line in the future. It's going to be a line that has completely new generation, low-emission trains."

The first phase of East West Rail between Oxford and Bicester is already complete and phase two is currently seeing work on extending services from Oxford to Bedford and from Milton Keynes to Aylesbury.

Oxfordshire is just one of three counties in the country that is a net contributor to the economy and maximising the growth between Oxford and Cambridge has become a key part of Government policy ahead of Brexit.

The Government also sees the controversial Oxford-Cambridge expressway as another vital transport project and parts of it look set to run alongside the East West Rail link.

Rob Brighouse, the chairman of the East West Railway Company, said: "East West Railway Company is working hard with Network Rail to open this line as soon as possible. We're delighted to have the work under way.

"When open this line will boost economic growth, and make it easier and quicker for people who live here to travel in the local area."

Last November, a key National Infrastructure Commission report said one million homes should be built between Oxford and Cambridge to ensure the region - known as the Oxford-Cambridge Growth Arc - fulfils its potential.

An NIC spokesman said: “As our report highlighted, this and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway together have the potential to help deliver one million homes by 2050, creating vibrant communities and supporting future economic growth.

“And as the Growth Arc continues to attract the brightest and best in some of the most high-tech industries, this will benefit both the area and the country as a whole.”