East West Rail Consortium is currently consulting on route options between Bedford and Cambridge. After more than two decades in gestation, this is the single most important piece of new transport infrastructure planned for the region.
Although known locally as the ‘Oxford–Cambridge’ line, it was conceived more as a new freight route between the container port at Felixstowe and the Midlands. But that didn’t excite politicians. Now we have the ‘CaMkOx Arc’, where a million new homes, and presumably a similar number of new jobs, are to be created. East West Rail has been reborn as a new commuter line, linking homes in new ‘garden’ towns with jobs in Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes and Oxford.
There are two route options from Cambridge, both branching off south of the city. One route goes west to Sandy with a station north of Royston, at Bassingbourn barracks, which is earmarked for housing development. However, its viability at scale is uncertain. The other goes north west, past Comberton to Cambourne, then west to St Neots. This would serve an expanding Cambourne and the development of neighbouring Bourn Airfield.
There is an obvious conflict with the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s flagship project, the Cambourne–Cambridge Busway. If East West Rail can take people from Cambourne to the Biomedical Campus in under 15 minutes, what need is there for a busway to west Cambridge?
This is, however, not a reason to delay any longer making vital improvements to bus services and cycle links. GCP’s resistance to doing so is baffling, especially as the need is more pressing than ever, as Papworth Hospital prepares to move onto the Biomedical Campus.
The right course seems clear: deliver East West Rail as quickly as possible (realistically, in around 10 years), following a route via Cambourne to support committed development there; cancel the busway; and redirect the City Deal money to other measures to improve bus services and priority, such as those advocated by Smarter Cambridge Transport.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 13 February 2019.