East-West Rail is coming. While engineers and politicians discuss the exact route of the new railway line to Bedford, Milton Keynes and Oxford, it’s important that we don’t overlook the range of opportunities it provides to improve the environment, connectivity and public health.
For example, the benefits will hugely outweigh the cost if – from the start – it also improves provision for cycling and walking. Just a quick look at maps of Cambridge and Bedfordshire shows the many rights of way that it will interrupt. A number of major roads, rivers and railways will be crossed, including the Great Ouse and the A1 in the St Neots area. Including cycle/footways in bridge designs will add useful and attractive connections for local communities and enable many rail users to reach stations without adding to rural road traffic.
Many small villages and settlements will be adversely affected by this development, especially during construction, so what would be better compensation than to provide those extra links to local schools, shops and open spaces?
Given the government’s drive to get petrol and diesel cars off our roads, it’s surely unthinkable that any new railway line will not be fully electrified from day one. Apart from reducing the overall carbon footprint, a fully electrified route will ensure residents near the railway are not exposed to additional diesel smoke. Locals could also benefit from the line being surrounded by new trees and hedgerows, helping to reduce its visual and noise impact.
A major new electrified rail link incorporating cycling and walking provision and green screening where appropriate along its whole length? Now that would be an achievement that shows the country is serious about environmentally responsible transport in the 21st century.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 12 February 2020.