Smarter Cambridge Transport

Are people right to oppose the ‘preferred’ route for East West Rail?

We should see within the next few months a more precise proposed route for East West Rail between Bedford and Cambridge. However, opposition is already growing in villages that may be affected.

Those who will be negatively impacted by the construction and operation of the new railway find little solace in being told, “It’s for the greater good.” There is, after all, no good answer to the question, “Why should it be me who pays the price for the greater good?” All there can be is fair and proportionate compensation and mitigation.

Even if objectors’ preferred alignment to the north of the A428 were followed, it’s not as if residents of other villages would not be affected in a similar way. A junction north of Milton might block creation of the long-planned competition rowing lake between Milton and Waterbeach. A station south of Northstowe sounds sensible, except it would offer little advantage over the Guided Busway, which also runs to Cambridge North, but from the centre of the new town. With trains calling only at Cambridge North, thousands of people would have to change there to reach Cambridge’s other stations: how will additional capacity on trains from Ely be created to accommodate them?

The southern approach currently being designed has a distinct advantage in serving both Cambridge South and the main station, where people can connect with all other rail and multiple bus services.

It should be possible for the line to run some distance north of Hauxton, Haslingfield and the Eversdens. It must be electrified from the outset, so that most or all passenger and freight locomotives using it are pollution-free and relatively quiet. There could be considerable local benefit in having a station on the west side of Comberton, next to the village college (which has almost 1,800 pupils and 250 staff). It is also an opportunity to provide new cycle and walking links alongside and across the railway line.

The need for a new east-west railway is beyond doubt. The rationale for the southern approach, though imperfect, makes sense. So, let’s work together to get the detail right.


This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 6 January 2021.

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.

28 comments

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  • Unfortunately, though, evidence suggests they’re planning a route SOUTH of Haslingfield, there would be no station at Comberton (Cambourn will be the first stop from Cambridge) and EWR are being very opaque about the issue of electric vs diesel trains.

    Improving transport links between East and West is of great benefit. But, once built, it’ll be with us for a long time. Minimising the environmental and agricultural impacts are essential. And, it seems like a pipe dream to get EWR to share information, let alone work together on the details.

  • Honestly, if this article genuinely reflects the thinking of “Smarter Cambridge”, then it’s a little bit concerning.

    The big omission is freight: the EW line is perfectly positioned to take substantial freight traffic in the longer term, onward to Felixtowe. A Southern approach to Cambridge would necessitate all that traffic being routed along part of the already busy Cam-Ldn route south of Cambridge, and then right through the middle of the city ifself! A route via Milton, instead, could link via the Cherry Hinton route to Newmarket for now, and is ripe for a new Milton-Newmarket spur in the longer term (at which point the Cherry Hinton track can become a nice short commuter route of some form).

    Also, why would a Northern approach have to terminate at Cambridge? Cambridge South is yet to be built, so xould easily have a single terminus platform added. Or some trains could continue straight to London – so residents of Cambourne and Northstowe could reach the capital without adding yet more footfall between platforms at Cambridge.

    • And as for the (not yet built) boating lake, is that really an argument against routing a critical rail line through a specific location? The region to the North of Cambridge isn’t exactly lacking in wide open flat land on which one might build a lake…

    • With four tracks between the Shepreth Branch and Coldham Lane junctions, there will be plenty of capacity for passenger and freight trains. By contrast, capacity between Cambridge North and Coldham Lane junction is limited by having just two tracks. Existing spare capacity will be needed for higher freqency services to Norwich (as part of East West Rail), Peterborough and planned new services from Wisbech.

      Quad-tracking the section north of Coldham Lane junction to Cambridge North, or possibly to a new junction north of Milton would have high monetary and environmental costs. For instance, it would take land from alongside Barnwell Lake, and either Stourbridge Common or Ditton Meadows, as well as other private land; it would require a second rail bridge over the river CAM, and the two Newmarket Rd bridges would have to be demolished and rebuilt with double the span. Furthermore, the chord proposed by CamBedRailRoad to add a north-east connection at Coldham Lane junction would take a large chunk of land from Coldham’s Common and require demolition of a number of business premises.

      The CamBedRailRoad proposal is to have some passenger trains terminate at Cambridge North. At the moment, the East West Rail proposal is not to have services terminate at Cambridge, but for some services to run to/from Norwich and some to/from Ipswich. This is for various reasons:

      • Growth in demand created by EWR is expected to be mainly in east-west passenger movements, including enabling people to avoid interchanging in London to reach destinations north of London.
      • There is very little spare platform capacity at Cambridge for more terminating trains.
      • Future increases in demand to travel to London are being met mainly by increasing the lengths of trains rather than adding more services, in part because platform capacity at London termini and track capacity on London approaches is very limited.

      If CamBedRailRoad’s proposal were adapted to have trains call at Cambridge and Cambridge South stations en route, it would require twice the number of additional train movements between Coldham Lane junction and Cambridge South; dwell times at Cambridge South would be extended to allow for drivers to change ends; and travel times for passengers travelling through Cambridge would be considerably extended. Adding a terminal platform at Cambridge South would take land from Hobson’s Park and add considerably to the cost of Cambridge South station.

      There is no fundamental problem with running freight trains through Cambridge. Most of the land adjacent to the railway is industrial or retail. We have much greater concern with runnning more passenger and freight trains through Cherry Hinton, which CamBedRailRoad does not address. Our proposal there is to realign the railway line to the north of Cherry Hinton.

      • Hi Edward. Thanks for your detailed reply – I’m not involved in any formal campaigns, just trying to add to the discussion however I can, and appreciate I don’t have all the detailed facts to hand.

        I appreciate that there are plans to quad the track south of Cambridge. In terms of bottlenecks, I assumed on that front the issue would be the Hills Road bridge and land just to the south of it. It’s built up on both sides, and the bridge itself is only just wide enough for four tracks – which are already all in use as the split on approach to the staion. Is there really enough space for four tracks between the guided busway and the flats which sit along the Eastern side of the track?

        I’d also be very cautious about the argument that “most land adjacent to the track is non-residential, because I really don’t think it’s true. From Cambridge station heading south there are hundreds of flats which look out directly onto the rail line from a *very* close distance, and between Cambridge station and Coldham’s lane a quick look at Google Earth suggests at least 50% of the trackside has residential property backing onto it, again much at pretty close distance.

        The existing Cherry Hinton route is, I think we agree, a silly option, for freight traffic in particular, as it’s narrowly squeezed between many houses (currently single but appreciate it could be re-doubled). Thus we will likely need a new route for at least part of the Cam-Newmarket route. If you draw a straight line from Cambourne to Newmarket, you basically pass through Milton. The proposed route, instead, snakes all the way South beyond Trumpington and then back through Cambridge – surely that’s the kind of unnecessary diversions which would have the Romans (and anyone concerned about emissions) spinning in their graves?

        It’s interesting to hear that one major bottleneck is having trains terminate at Cambridge, and so I can see why there’s an argument for EW approacing from the South so that those trains can continue on towards Norwich. However, could they not just as easily approach from the North and continue down towards London? Both options would reduce terminus trains at Cambridge, and there are currently plenty of London-bound trains which terminate in Cambridge (the only asymmetry I guess could be issues with franchising, but I’m sure they could be resolved if necessary). I appreciate there can only be two tracks north of Cambridge, but surely that’s enough space for traffic towards Lynn, Norwich and Cambourne – especially if freight traffic can cross near Milton directly onto a new route onwards to Newmarket?

        • Hi Edward. A few more thoughts in reply to your concerns:

          1. Platforms 5 and 6 at Cambridge (Northbound termini) serve one train an hour each at present, from Norwich and Ipswich: are you really saying Cambridge can’t take another few hourly terminus trains from the north?

          2. There are currently ~4 trains heading south from Ely towards Cambridge. Again, another few coming from Bedford via a junction at Milton is hardly going to saturate that line without expanding to 4-track, surely?

          3. Yes, Norwich/Ipswich passengers for onward travel towards Bedford will need to change at Cambridge or Cambridge North in my proposal. However, surely that’s never going to be a large number of people; it’s certainly not a regular commuter route? Conversely, having some London trains travel through Cambridge towards Bedford via a northern EW route would give Cambourne residents a direct train to the capital, and similar to the midlands for those in towns and villages south of Cambridge…surely that’s a much larger potential passenger pool?

          4. Hobson’s Park is absolutely massive – are you really arguing that one extra platform at Cambridge South (if it’s even needed – see points 1 and/or 3) would really have that much impact? I’m afraid that argument is even more tenuous than your one about the (still not even approved/planned) rowing lake…

          5. A spur from Fen Ditton to Fulbourn for freight traffic would probably not cost much more than your “Cherry Hinton bypass”, and avoid routing freight traffic through Cambridge (p.s. I’m still shocked by your “Most of the land adjacent to the railway is industrial or retail” argument…!). Plus, you’d probably save a whole heap of money by not needing to expand the track south of Coldham’s Lane to a quad.

          6. Back to your original article, you note that immediate electrification is necessary. Do you know what fraction of UK freight rolling stock is currently electrified? Sadly it is likely to be a long time until it all is (overhead cables are expensive to install in every siding, and are something of a pain when it comes to loading and unloading hoppers….

          • The aspiration for EWR is to have 2–3 services per hour in each direction between Cambridge–Norwich and Cambridge–Ipswich, and 4-6 services per hour in each direction Cambridge–Bedford. If all EWR trains approach from the north, and turn around at Cambridge station, capacity would be required for 12 trains/hour approaching and 12 trains/hour leaving. That would amount to an additional 24 train-movements per hour on the section between Cambridge station and the CBBR-proposed Milton junction. In theory the two bay platforms 5 & 6 could accommodate 6 stops/hour each, though it would probably require extensive track and signalling changes to accommodate the crossing movements required to get trains in and out (at slow speed) without reducing capacity for through-trains.

            If, instead, EWR trains turned around at Cambridge South, it would require a pair of bay platforms, extensive track changes, and a much larger station. That would add considerably to the land-take from Hobson’s Park. You may think that is a reasonable price to pay; you’ll find plenty of Cambridge residents who disagree. You could for instance ask Trumpington Residents Association to see their response to the Cambridge South consultation.

            It would of course also require quad-tracking between Cambridge South and Cambridge stations even if only half the trains ran through to Cambridge South because 6 trains/hour would create 12 train-movements/hour, the same as having all 12 trains/hour run to/from Bedford using the southern approach. The in-out diversion into Cambridge from a northern approach would add significantly to the journey time for through-passengers as their trains would be making an 13.5km in-and-out detour via Cambridge South (or 8km if turning around at Cambridge station).

            Four-tracking south of Coldham Lane junction is relatively straightforward as it will be within Network Rail land, and most of the track is already in place.

            It’s difficult to assess the cost and impacts of “a spur from Fen Ditton to Fulbourn” without seeing a specific alignment. Potential obstacles that would be costly to cross including the River Cam, the A14 (unless you envisage the junction being built on Chesterton Fen), Horningsea Rd, High Ditch Rd, the A1303 and Quy Fen SSSI.

            At a very rough estimate, 4% of rail freight movement (in tonne-kms) are by electric locomotives (based on declared emissions). That is why it is so important that, wherever EWR is built, we put pressure on the Department for Transport to ensure it is electrified for passenger and freight trains. The government has already committed to phase out diesel locomotives by 2040, so it would be perverse to allow a new freight route to require diesel engines.

            As for shunting trains at depots and sidings, this doesn’t require electrification: diesel, hydrogen or battery-powered locomotives can do that job.

        • I concede that the amount of housing adjacent to the railway line through Cambridge is significant, in particular the flats and student accommodation built on the east side south of Hills Rd. Although land adjacent to the railway is mostly non-residential, that is gradually changing as former industrial sites (the Mill Rd depot, Ridgeons and Travis Perkins) are redeveloped. Nevertheless, the people buying or renting houses or student accommodation alongside the railway do so in the full knowledge that it’s a busy railway line. The buildings are mostly modern, designed and constructed with the railway in mind. Having myself lived within 60m of the railway line (and about 80m now), I have never found the noise anywhere near as intrusive as road traffic. The only trains I (or, that I recall, neighbours) have ever commented on are those carrying heavy aggregates.

          The priority must be to phase out diesel locomotives, the sooner the better. Then there is no air quality issue, and noise levels are greatly reduced. Use of bimode locomotives (as currently deployed on the Ipswich and Norwich services) allows for electric operation in the city and diesel (or battery or hydrogen) on unelectrified sections.

          Part of the package of works proposed for Cambridge South station is an extension south of the shunt spur under Hills Rd bridge. That will provide a fourth track on the southern approach to Cambridge station: “In summary the works involve an extension to the existing shunt spur and the addition of a crossover which will connect the shunt spur to the WAML. This will provide more flexibility for train movements into Cambridge Station.”

          EWR is being designed to facilitate east-west movements, not provide additional services to London (for which there is little capacity). For instance, it will enable travel between Ipswich and Manchester via Bletchley rather than via London.

          • The boating lake is a non-issue as it was cancelled. The Comberton station is not in any plans. At current rates diesel-only freight trains will still exist well beyond the date for EW rail opening (national issue, not linked with EW decisions, so you really can’t rely on that). Northstowe will have 24,000 people (to Comberton’s 1,800) – are you really saying a couple of bus stops and a bus-only road means they have no need for rail? Platforms 5 & 6 at Cambridge have plenty of space for terminating EW rail trains. I think that completes the demolition of your entire original article – or is there anything else you’d like to rebut?

            Of your first reply, you accept that passing more trains – freight and passenger – will cause significant disturbance to a lot of people (and air pollution too until we fully electrify freight stock, for which there is still no set date). Let’s accept that Cambridge South isn’t a sensible terminus. You accept that existing track North of Cambridge station, and platforms 5 and 6, can readily cope with 2 Ipswich, 2 Norwich and 4-6 Bedford trains an hour (with potential space to squeeze in one or two more if needed). And that’s before even including the possibility of continuing some EW trains down to either London or – perhaps even more usefully – Stansted Airport.

            So from what I can see, your only real argument in favour of the southern route is that it avoids those coming from Norwich or Ipswich having to change in Cambridge or Cambridge North for onward travel towards the midlands, and provides more scope for even more Norwich/Ipswich trains. This isn’t a commuter route; I would be very surpised indeed if it’s used by very large numbers of people. In return for this modest benefit, you’ll happily pass many more freight trains on a longer, windy route through a busy urban centre and past more villages, remove the chance of a station from a new town of 24,000 people, slice through the Wimpole estate, jeopardise a world-leading radio astronomy facility, force those travelling from Bedford etc towards Stansted to change at Cambridge, and turn the line squished between blocks of flats by Hills Road into something not far off Clapham Junction…

            I’ll accept, if you genuinely think there’s demand for 3 trains/hour from Ipswich, 3 from Norwich and 6 from Beford, then the line north of Cambridge could become conjested. But can you honestly say there’s anything like the demand for that? Until recently there were only that many trains from Cambridge to KX and Liverpool Street combined! Norwich and Ipswich currently have one small train an hour. I grew up in Norwich, and for the life of me can’t work out why so many people would want to travel back and forth all the way to Bedford and beyond on a regular basis. Two double-length (~6 carriage) trains an hour for each would *quadrouple* existing capacity. Remember Norwich passengers already have the direct train to Liverpool, and there’s the Cambridge-Birmingham cross-country route…both are one small train an hour, and I’ve not seen serious pressure to massively expand those services. Furthermore, the inceased demand you forecast from the EW route will be explicitly (by definition) for passengers *not* wanting to start or end at Cambridge – so why not, for that third hourly train from Norwich or Ipswich – just bypass Cambridge entirely, and send it merrily along its way past the north of the city without stopping?

            Plus, if all that traffic does come to fruition, then by your proposal you’re passing – each way – 8ish London trains and 6 EW trains an hour, plus Stansted trains (which may need to be increased as the airport is expanded & can benefit from EW rail), plus the main freight route towards Felixstowe….even with a 4-track (but no further spreading on approach to Cambridge), that starts to look very busy indeed. In the very long term, knocking down all those flats and rebuilding the Hills Road bridge are a far bigger hurdle than adding extra capacity further to the North

  • Sir. I find your article patronising and not at all in the best interest of any East West rail route. To say hundreds of families and homes should be willing to be destroyed for the greater good of a train line is arrogant. To consider the importance of a competition rowing lake still under proposal instead of families and lives is out of touch with reality. And your are factually incorrect: the train does not terminate at north cambridge for commuters. That station was built to connect the north with central and south.

    You are creating fake news with fake facts.

    It would be good if you take down or factually check your facts and and restate your article to give balance to the civil rights of real people over a lake and your greater good.

    • It would seem that you are opposed to the railway being built at all? Because, if you support the northern alignment proposed by CamBedRailRoad, then the fears you express for residents of Harston, Haslingfield, Harlton, the Eversdens, etc would instead be experienced by residents of Dry Drayton, Girton, Oakington, Histon and Impington, Landbeach, etc.

      There has been no indication to date that East West Rail is considering an alignment that would required hundreds of homes to be demolished. Indeed, it should be possible to route the railway line some distance from most or all villages south west of Cambridge.

      The reference to Cambridge North was not in the article, but in a response to an earlier comment. It refers to the CamBedRailRoad proposal, with a link to a recent presentation about it by Sebastian Kindersley.

      • The smug tone of your response and the very title of your article is my point about being out of touch and arrogance. The greater good you claim
        to represent needs to consider the views and opinions from All angles, and approaches. With full transparency and consideration of true facts. Close enough is not good enough. The EWR “preferred” route has not considered all available options in a balanced nor transparent manner as illustrated by CA alternatives.

  • Edward, Thanks for this article and opening the debate on this site. It seems that the rowing lake you refer to (and as mentioned in §16 of the EWR Co. Option report) was cancelled in mid 2018. see https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/local-news/rowing-lakes-milton-waterbeach-plans-14929947

    Are you aware of any plans to bring this back? As fas as I can see EWR Co. got this wrong.

    Comparing the CBRR proposal with Option E between Cambourne North and Cambridge we have found it to be
    – shorter, (see https://cambridgeapproaches.org/a-comparison-of-option-e-and-cbrr-length-and-capital-cost/)
    – the EWR Co. cost comparison is problematic to say the least
    – to affect many fewer villages outside Cambridge
    – to affect fewer residents inside Cambridge,
    – to have much less impact on SSSI, County Wildlife Reserves, Wildlife Trusts
    – fewer road crossings especially B roads.

    So it’s not just a case of moving the problem from one set of people to another, the CBRR route is really much lower impact.

    Watch out for a post on cambridgeapproaches.org where we share evidence for this.

    You have said they are equivalent – have you done a comparative study before making that statement?

    Do you know the status of the 4 tracking plans between Shepreth branch Junction and Cambridge Central – will the work be justified by the EWR Co. budget or a Network rail budget? Either way the taxpayer funds it and it should be counted on the Option E budget if the capacity improvement is to accommodate the additional 4-6 tph passenger trains each way and up to 50 freight trains per day once the new East West Main Line matures.

    We spoke to people in the Mill Road area about this additional freight traffic and they were aghast. Why were they not consulted? Why indeed.

    • The most recent news (23 September 2020) on the Cambridge Country Park and Sport Lakes can be found on the Cambridge Sport Lakes Trust website.

      Track work south of Cambridge Station is being planned as part of the Cambridge South station project: some 4-tracking south from Hills Rd bridge and 3-tracking south of Cambridge South station. That will be funded by Network Rail (i.e. the government). The cost of the additional works will will be a tiny fraction of the total project budget for the EWR central section.

      As for doing a detailed comparison between EWR and CBBR, that would require us to know the specific alignments. EWR have not yet published a route alignment, only a wide ‘corridor’ in which it could be built, so it is as yet unknown which villages will be affected and how; what SSSI and other ecologically sensitive sites may be affected; and which roads will need to be crossed and where (incidentally, crossing multi-lane roads, like the M11, A14 and A428 requires considerably more expensive infrastructure than an overbridge for a single-carriageway road). I also haven’t seen a detailed alignemnt for the CBBR route: I’d be happy to look at it if one exists.

      Cost estimates are only that, estimates. Until a specific alignment has been surveyed in detail, we should expect estimates to vary. This is, and always will be, a serious problem when comparing transport options. How much time and money should be invested to establish an accurate cost for comparator options? At what point is the evidence strong enough to choose one option over another?

      I appreciate that supporters of CBBR believe that the northern alignment option has not been adequately or transparently assessed. I think EWR should respond point-by-point to CBBR’s proposal. However, on the basis of what has been published to date, I am inclined to believe that EWR is pursuing the right option in broad outline. However, like everyone else, I await with great interest the details of the proposed alignment and location of Cambourne station.

      • Edward Thanks for the reply. Agree we need a more of a comparison between the northern and southern approaches from EWR Co. What we have so far is very thin and this is such an important decision for the Cambridge area it needs far more due diligence and public scrutiny than it has had to date. That’s one of the main reasons for the CBRR petition calling for a consultation – please have a look.

        We just completed quite a detailed CBRR/Option E comparison ourselves see https://cambridgeapproaches.org/a-comparison-of-option-e-and-cbrr-part-2-residential-environmental-impact/

        7.2 times as many people live within 200m of a southern option E route as for the CBRR route between Cambourne and Cambridge. We also explained the results of a detailed study by the Wildlife Trust which shows around 3 times as many protected sites are affected by southern option E as by CBRR – that includes wildlife sites, SSSIs and SAMs.

        That’s a huge difference.

        Regarding technical problems with a northern route, I am sure there are plenty with the southern route too. I am also sure they are solvable. We put a man on the moon 50 years ago, surely we can get a railway into Cambridge!

        So they are still campaigning for the rowing lake – looks great, but nothing approved yet. I am sure that EWR Co could work with any approved plan for that if necessary.

      • Edward, you say above “as for doing a detailed comparison between EWR and CBBR, that would require us to know the specific alignments. EWR have not yet published a route alignment, only a wide ‘corridor’ in which it could be built, so it is as yet unknown which villages will be affected and how”.

        Please have a look at this google map with EWR survey locations. It seems that they are only considering a very specific route alignment within the corridor.

        https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1FJ3PxWlDgsqeEWcv_MCii8l8S4jS9Hoq&ll=52.16347875156637%2C0.025063082695071515&z=12

        • Interesting. I’m assuming this is not definitive, i.e. there could have been surveys conducted, e.g. on farmland away from people’s homes, that has not been reported and mapped?

          • I think that it’s unlikely that surveys done on farmland are not on this map, as local farmers seem to be rightly concerned about the impact on productivity a freight line will have. However, it is quite possible that residents in other villages, such as Barton and Comberton, will not be aware of this document as some parish councils and residents have been (quite reasonably, to be fair) busy with their response to the pandemic.

  • I am very new to theses arguments and I have not yet got my head around the detail of the technical limitations etc.
    All the published articles on this subject, including this one, seem quite biased and drill down into detail that I find difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is only me who is struggling!
    …But from a layman’s perspective it seems there needs to be some open dialogue to fully understand the impact and fears that residents have. Surely that is how the various rail groups, and I’m specially thinking of EWR, can get people onboard and bring them on-side.
    For example some of the concerns that I have heard anecdotally is that people fear their houses or gardens will be bulldozed, that noisy/polluting freight trains will run close to homes every few minutes 24/7. Are these valid fears?
    As you state, it’s very hard for people to consider the “greater good” without seeing some direct benefit.
    Perhaps, as you state, people would be more accepting if new stations are built to accommodate residents in the affected villages?
    Is it a pre-requisite that the line will be electrified? Is that a certainty or only an aspiration?
    What considerations are being made to future proof the transport system in / around Cambridge?
    I would really like to see a simple explanation of what the technical challenges and costs of both approaches and the pros and cons of each. And also the real possible impacts to residents and some open discussion on what could be done to offset them.

    • Much of what you ask for should be in the detailed proposal for the East West Rail central section, which is due to be published “early” this year. I completely understand the anxiety of not knowing who will be affected or how. All I can suggest is that you register to be kept updated by East West Rail, and that we all hold the company to the promises it has made, including to be “transparent and clear at every stage”.

      I agree with you that EWR’s communications about the ‘preferred’ route option have been poor, not helped of course by the pandemic requiring all information to be conveyed online. I would encourage

  • Hi Edward

    (starting a new thread as your website only allows replies 3-deep)

    How about this for how a northern approach might work, to address all the concerns you raised:

    From Cambourne, take the new line NE via a new station just North of Oakington to serve Northstowe. Join the Ely line with a 3-way junction just NE of Milton. Add a N-E spur to the Coldhams Common junction, knocking down a couple of commercial sheds on Coldhams Road to make space.

    *********

    – Take the 2 KX trains per hour (tph) which currently terminate at Cambridge North, and continue them towards Bedford (no physical reason this shouldn’t happen, it’s just a franchising shuffle).
    – Add 2 new tph from Cambridge Platform 5/6 towards Bedford (one of which could be the Ipswich train on an in-and-out)
    – Add 1 new tph from Norwich which turns off at the Milton junction towards Bedford, as a Norfolk-to-Home Counties express
    – Add 1 new tph from Ipswich which heads North at Coldham’s Common, stops at Cambridge North, and continues towards Bedford.

    That’s 2 tph CamSouth-Bedford, 4 tph Cam-Bedford, and up to 5 tph from CamNorth-Bedford (not all these necessarily need to stop). Norwich and Ipswich get 1 tph to Cambridge, and 1 tph ‘express’ (straight past for Norwich, via Cambridge North for Ipswich) – that’s doubled capacity already, but you could also make all Norwich and Ipswich trains longer (worst case tell passengers needing the few short rural platforms to sit in certain carriages).

    The section which can’t be widened across the Cam currently has 6 tph each way (2GA to LivSt, 2GN to KX, 1 CC, 1 Nor-Stn). The above adds just 3tph to that total, yet provides the required 6tph towards Bedford.

    That’s fewer, shorter trains than currently travel through the 2-track Shelford junction, hardly a saturated line.

    Assuming we want to keep things comfortable and not exceed ~12 tph (a simple rule-of-thumb for a dual track line), you’ve still got ~3 more trains to play with: these could be a 3rd hourly service from Norwich and/or Ipswich if you really think there’s demand; a new Bedford-to-Stansted line (which I imagine would be quite popular); and still have spare capacity for freight.

    You get a station serving 24,000 people in Northstowe (add a shuttle bus and Bar Hill benefits too), faster express routes towards Bedford from the East coast, direct Northstowe-London trains, Stansted direct from Norwich and perhaps also Bedford….and still very regular trains from Cambridge to all destinations. Cambridge station is use is better shared between all platforms (making use of currently almost empty 5&6), and it avoids a 16+ tph, four-track cacophany heading South from Cambridge station. Freight trains pass by hardly any houses between Milton and Coldham’s common, so residents of Cambridge will be pleased. Keep the same Cherry Hinton bypass as proposed. You lose a couple of commercial units on Coldham’s road, but if the route went to the North of Bar Hill then I recon you could avoid knocking down a single house en route, and pass close to far fewer of them than for any of the southern options proposed. All for similar-or-shorter track length and overall cost compared with a southern approach. And you don’t disturb the bats at Wimpole or the physicists at Lord’s Bridge.

    In the longer term, if it turns out that the demand for rail freight towards Felixtowe is really significant, then the routes are ideally positioned to run a new line from the Milton junction straight on to Newmarket – you could easily fit half a dozen freight trains an hour that way if you wanted! That’s an entirely out-of-town, much more direct freight route, and my proposed Ipswich routes could easily adapt to it too (one or two via Cambridge; one express straight on towards Bedford). A southern approach, conversely, would hamstring any future freight expansion as everything would be forced to add to the 16 tph heading North into Cambridge station…

    All of your comments seem to be about why a nothern route wouldn’t work, rather than actually explaining the benefits of a southern approach – so given the above, do you still see a northern approach as unfeasible, or at least inferior to a southern route? I’d be fascinated to hear your thoughts.

    (worth noting that while you’re sufficiently involved in this to run a focus group on it, I’ve just spent a couple of hours thinking about it over the past few days – so the above is hardly an optimised proposal!)

    • A northern approach is clearly feasible. The question is whether that is preferable to the option being developed by East West Rail. Our position is that, pending publication of the detailed alignment preferred by East West Rail, we provisionally accept the balancing of pros and cons favours a southern approach. We therefore want to ensure that it is designed to afford the greatest possible benefit and the least possible damage to people’s lives and the environment.

      You express scepticism about passenger demand for 3 services/hour on East West Rail from Ipswich and from Norwich. However, increasing the frequency of services will benefit people in intermdediate towns and villages, including Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Thetford. Currently, most people choose to drive to Cambridge (or not go to Cambridge at all). That will change as the quality of the service improves to be more like that of Ely, which has 2,400,000 station entries/exits annually, compared with 350,000 at Newmarket, 970,000 at Bury St Edmunds (which has a slightly better service to Ipswich than to Cambridge) and 300,000 at Thetford.

      It would make little sense to have East West trains bypass Cambridge when the city is the major local destination for work, education, social connections, leisure, culture and sport. There will always be a mix of local and longer-distance passengers, both of whose needs have to be catered for without undue compromise.

      As for capacity available north of Coldham Lane junction, that will be required for increasing the frequency of services between Cambridge and Peterborough, and adding new services from Wisbech, if that progresses as planned.

      There would undoubtedly by merit in having a railway station at Northstowe. There is also clear benefit in having freight trains not pass through Cambridge station. But neither of these is a ‘knock-out’ blow in favour of a northern alignment.

      Northstowe has a segregated public transport link to Cambridge North station. In the near term, it can have buses running every few minutes from the centre of the town to Cambridge North and other destinations. In the longer term, it could potentially have a tram service, since replacing concrete beams with steel tracks would be a relatively simple task. More problematically for the northern rail alignment is that Northstowe has been designed, and is being built, without a railway station. Retrofitting one that is conveniently accessible would be severely challenging. As would weaving the line around Dry Drayton and Oakington and managing local flood risks.

      It’s understandable that people want freight trains as far from their homes as possible. That breaks down into three distinct concerns:

      • Pollution from diesel locomotives: we should all campaign for an irreversible commitment from EWR that the line will be electrified and that, as a new freight route, it will be used only by electric locomotives.
      • Noise from diesel locomotives: as above.
      • Vibration from heavy trains: the only trains I have experienced causing significant vibration are those carrying aggregates (on the King’s Lynn line). Container freight is much lower density. Where vibration could be an issue, the track can and should be designed to damp it.

      It may be that, further into the future, a freight bypass line is justified because of limited capacity through Cambridge. It would certainly make sense for EWR to calculate what is that capacity limit, and how much growth in passenger services would saturate it. If, realistically, capacity could be exceeded within 50 years or so, then EWR should examine where a future freight bypass could be built, and the Department for Transport should reserve land for it.

  • I find this article very interesting and the responses are also very informative.
    I would question some of the points raised, in particular a station at Comberton that has never been on the cards it is worth noting that Comberton parish council backed a northern approach in 2019. So not quite sure where that has come from?

    • The suggestion (and it is only a suggestion) to have a station at Comberton is to derive some local benefit from the alignment corridor chosen by East West Rail. The benefit would be less need to own a car in order to access local jobs, schools, cultural/sporting/leisure amenities, and to visit friends and family. That in turn could lead to a reduction in motor traffic through the village (headed to the college and into Cambridge).

      There is valid and understandable concern by residents that any new railway station will bring with it unwanted new development, since that is a key part of the business case for East West Rail. It is up to the local planning authority to set out a clear vision (through the new Local Plan) for exactly where new housing and employment sites will be built around the railway line, and how those will be designed to benefit rather than damage existing communities. It is essential that East West Rail is not only an economic project, but one that that reduces carbon emissions and pollution, and promotes social inclusion and equality.

  • Cambourne needs a rail station. If, as seems likely, this is located north of the A428 development will inevitably follow and the spectre of ‘Harborne’/North Cambourne will once again arise.

    We are told that the South Cambs countryside south of the line of EWR should be cherished. Is the countryside north of the 428 any less worthy of some protection and some thought being given to mitigating the adverse environmental impact of siting a station north of the 428?

  • In central Bedford this precise route has caused real concern. Details of needing extra tracks were not mentioned at the single consultation event held in Bedford on the south of the town on a Friday afternoon in Feb 2019. It is now apparent that many people were never even notified of this. Last Tuesday people discovered that their homes were under threat of demolition. This was the first they had heard of any such possibility. We are now faced with heavy diesel locomotives passing through the town centre, a redeveloped but poorly located station that is hard to reach by sustainable transport and local infrastructure disrupted again! The two bridges serving the north west of the town have both been rebuilt recently and will now be again. Perhaps this is why Bedfordians are mystified about the most expensive route became the most attractive.

    • And if you want an idea of what “adverse environmental impact” looks like just pop down here to Calvert in Bucks. Another woodland was demolished over the Easter weekend, to be replaced with wooden fencing. Concrete will no doubt follow. A trip along the A41 towards Bicester will prepare you…