A few weeks ago I was waiting for a London-bound train at Cambridge North, just after 5pm, when I bumped into a friend on the platform. This would be unremarkable except that I know he lives very close to Cambridge station, not Cambridge North. Why would he be waiting for a London-bound train here?
Mystery solved: he was going home from work. “It’s like the Tube” he says, “I work at the Science Park and commute one stop. It’s cheaper and faster than the bus.” He went on: “I even bought a monthly pass, Cambridge to Cambridge North, which caused some consternation at the ticket office.”
But it shouldn’t. A year ago I co-wrote an article pointing out that the three stations – Cambridge North, the future south station, and the main station – would together form the backbone of a ‘Cambridge Overground’ metro within five years. This is based on infrastructure improvements already in the pipeline, with no expensive tunnels or fantastic technology required. All it needs is a change in thinking about the potential of the pre-existing railway line, and how various services can work together to form a frequent public transport trunk.
In the past, railways have been viewed as a means for inter-city trips, irrelevant to local and regional transport. Parts of the Department for Transport still cling to that model, insisting on preserving 450 car parking spaces at the main station, as if Cambridge were merely an outlying suburb of London. It appears that some Greater Cambridge Partnership officials still believe that Waterbeach residents will ride buses to the Biomedical Campus, slogging through the city, instead of enjoying a rapid train ride to the planned station at Addenbrooke’s.
Unfortunately, these are the sort of zombie ideas which are dragging down the city’s future.
At CB1, the developers are being required to build a wasteful multi-storey car park at the epicentre of a congested zone where car traffic needs to be reduced, not induced. On Milton Road, tenacious plans for bus lanes will destroy space for walking, cycling and trees.
There is still time to change course. The key is viewing the railway as the centrepiece of a truly integrated public transport network.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 10 January 2018.