Network Rail’s assessment of rail needs for the next 25 years was in the news last week. To recap the benefits rail users can hope to experience:
Between 2020 and 2025: relocated, fully accessible station with parking at Waterbeach; new station for the Biomedical Campus; new station at Soham, served by trains between Peterborough and Ipswich.
From 2025 to 2030: up to six trains per hour between Oxford and Cambridge via Bedford (assuming funding is forthcoming); but only in the “aspirational growth scenario” does more than one of these trains run out to Ipswich and Norwich.
What’s missing from this is simply any grasp of the scale of change needed to radically reduce the environmental damage of road transport. Rail is one of the least carbon-intensive and least polluting forms of transport, so we should be aiming for a huge and rapid shift to rail, with every station designed to provide level access to buses, foot- and cycleways, and stacks of secure cycle parking.
Assertions in the report like this beggar belief: “No additional services are required in the high peak hour on the corridor between Cambridge and Ipswich to meet 2033 demand.” Newmarket has a similar population to Ely but only 16% of the passenger numbers through its railway station. A faster, more frequent service from Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket, ideally through to Cambridge South would see demand rocket.
Where’s the new station for Fulbourn, Cherry Hinton and Teversham? Having access to the above services would be transformational, relieving Cherry Hinton Rd and Newmarket Rd.
Where’s the reinstated railway line to Haverhill? The expert cost-benefit analysis already conducted showed this would have five times the economic benefit of the Cambourne-Cambridge Busway.
Why no mention of more frequent, faster services between Cambridge and Peterborough, the other city in the Combined Authority? This is essential to shift car traffic from the A14/A1.
The report acknowledges passenger congestion around the footbridge at Cambridge station, but where is the recommendation for a second footbridge, and an eastern entrance to the station? Both are essential to cope safely with more passengers.
Where’s the vision? Where’s the ambition?
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 24 April 2019.
A fuller, but slightly out-of-date, assessment of the regional rail network can be found in Rail and its Untapped Potential.