Smarter Cambridge Transport
Waterbeach New Town

A vision for Waterbeach transport

If all goes to plan, Waterbeach New Town will have a new railway station, a dualled A10, a busway that will become part of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM), and four new cycleways [1] to north Cambridge.

Cycleways make perfect sense: the centre of the new town is just four miles from the science and business parks in north Cambridge. That’s a leisurely 25-minute commute, or 15 minutes on an e-bike. But what about the rest?

But the big money is to be spent on increasing road capacity: £188 million on the A10 and £53 million on the busway. The mayor is determined to deliver on pledges to dual the A10 and build an ‘autonomous metro’ in south Cambridgeshire. The Greater Cambridge Partnership is set on building a busway dreamt up over six years ago. New busways must be CAM-compatible, yet the specifications for CAM are still unknown. Will it be an optically-guided “trackless tram” system, like the one being developed in China, or something based on smaller, fully-autonomous vehicles, as proposed by the Technical Advisory Committee? Might tunnels require a rail-based solution? What will the newly appointed Simon Wright recommend?

The rationale for building the busway/metro is that Waterbeach needs more public transport capacity. It was decided by 2014 that the railway and A10 would not be sufficient for the new town. Is that still true? From December, eight-car trains will start calling at the just-completed longer platforms at Waterbeach, doubling capacity [2]. The project to relieve the bottleneck north of Ely has now restarted. And Cambridge South station is progressing. So, it is far from true that railway capacity has hit a ceiling.

The combination of rail, bus and cycling could move more people from Waterbeach to more destinations more quickly than buses running to the top of Milton Rd. All it needs is for every railway station to be a hub for high frequency bus services, a network of protected cycleways, and plentiful, secure cycle parking. That would cost far less than the estimated £250 million to dual the A10 and build the Waterbeach busway, and benefit thousands more people.

[1] On the west side of the railway line (The Greater Cambridge Partnership Greenway), along Mere Way (Urban & Civic’s contribution to support Waterbeach New Town west), alongside the upgraded A10, and alongside the busway/metro, the route of which is yet to be decided.

[2] If, as promised, the eight-car Ely to London services also call at Waterbeach, capacity will be quadrupled, from four cars every hour to eight cars every half-hour.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 9 September 2020.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

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