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.

50 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.

      • @Edward Leigh

        can I ask ,
        what connection do you have, either personally or via association , with the rail companies, or any of the lobbying groups ?

        • I have no professional connections with East West Railway Company, Network Rail or the Department for Transport. Naturally I have had conversations with people in the rail industry who are connected with the EWR project. I lead Smarter Cambridge Transport and am a member of Camcycle and Railfuture. Why do you ask?

          • You say no professional connection , does that mean that you have other connections,

            You ask why do i ask,
            because I believe in freedom of speech,

          • I gave you a complete and honest answer. I do not stand to benefit in any way from EWR, nor from any associated development. Don’t assume that a different point of view from your own is necessarily held in bad faith.

  • 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…

  • Hi Edward

    “The need for a new east-west railway is beyond doubt.“

    Is that true? Where is the independently validated business case to justify the monetary and environmental cost? Is the line justified for freight transport, connecting as many towns and cities along its length, enable the fastest rail time east to west, or…?

    And why isn’t the line being proposed as electrified from the start given government targets to have a fully electrified network in the first half of this century? I suspect it’s because the business case falls apart.

    This is not about NIMBY, it’s about why are we doing this at all.

    Chet

    • The business case has not yet been written for the Central Section of EWR as the project is still in the options-sifting phase. The initial analysis underpinning the project can be found in the Conditional Outputs Statement, available on the EWR Consortium website.

      The government is hedging its bets on battery and/or hydrogen power as a cheaper alternative to overhead-line electrification. Railway experts, lobby groups (such as Rail Future and ourselves) and local politicians are pretty much united in believing that the government should commit now to full-electrification for passenger and freight services.

      The scepticism you express about the business case for EWR would be better directed at road capacity upgrades, such as dualling the A428 and A10, adding an extra lane to the M11 and, further afield but connected, the Lower Thames Crossing. These only make sense if we ignore the carbon emissions from road transport, the negative health impacts of air pollution and car-dependency, the ecological damage wrought by road construction, and the relatively inefficient use of land in terms of the number of people and tonnes of freight moved per hour.

  • The 428 route , you say trains would only go to Cambridge north ?
    That’s I would have thought a train operations decision , why could trains not go to Cambridge itself ?
    I understand new route is to be diesel trains. Why not electrify from start ?
    If trains electric , why not then rum direct to say Liverpool Street or Brighton as current trains from Cambridge do ?
    A proper integrated system.

    • Let me start with the point about diesel trains. The problem is that the government is sitting on the fence. It is considering potential future rail technologies, such as hydrogen and battery-power, in the mistaken belief that these might be cheaper than up-front electrification (even though it would be less energy efficient). This is all deeply unhelpful, and a distraction from the benefits that EWR should bring if it is fully electrified from the outset. Taking cars and container trucks off the A14 and A428 is good for the environment and good for those people who need to use those roads.

      The suggestion that trains might terminate at Cambridge North is in the CamBedRailRoad proposal, described in their presentation. There are various proposals from CamBedRailRoad and Cambridge Approaches for onward routing of trains beyond Cambridge North:

      • via a new ‘chord’ through Coldham’s Common joining the Newmarket railway line, which would bypass Cambridge station;
      • via bay platforms at Cambridge station, where trains would reverse direction, switching between the King’s Lynn and Newmarket lines at Coldhams Lane junction;
      • via bay platforms at Cambridge South station, where trains would reverse direction, switching between the King’s Lynn and Newmarket lines at the Coldhams Lane junction;
      • continuing on south to London or Stansted Airport;
      • via a new ‘chord’ south of Ely to linking the King’s Lynn line with the Soham line to east of Newmarket (this would be for freight services only).

      All of these have issues, which are covered in detail in Appendix F of the Consultation Technical Report.

      Having trains change direction at Cambridge doubles the number of train movements on the track between Cambridge station and Coldhams Lane, and requires twice as many crossing manoeuvres, reducing capacity greatly. The EWR study concludes that it would require adding two tracks to the existing railway between Coldhams Lane and the new junction north of Milton, which would need to be built as a flyover junction (as at Hitchin).

      Capacity on the approaches to London King’s Cross, St Pancras and Liverpool St are all close to saturated, so, adding more trains is unlikely to be an option. Stansted Airport also has very limited spare track and platform capacity. One could run existing services that terminate at Cambridge or Cambridge North on to, say, Bedford or beyond. However, that adds operational risks: the longer the journey, the more likely there will be delays. As delays of more than 2 or 3 minutes would have serious knock-on effects for busy parts of the railway (such as south of Cambridge), timetables would have to be extended to make allowance for those possible delays. That increases journey times and operating costs. It also means that people travelling east-west will have to change trains at Cambridge, adding more time to journeys, and reducing the relative appeal of train versus driving for those trips. One of the benefits of EWR will be to enable people living in, say, Ipswich, to travel to, say, Birmingham or Manchester without going via London. Having to make a connection at Cambridge will reduce that benefit.

      None of this is black-and-white. It’s all about balancing different sets of social and environmental benefits and disbenefits, as welll as construction and operating costs. EWR have made what we believe to be a well-argued case for that balance favouring a southern approach, where trains can call at both Cambridge South and Cambridge station on their way between Bedford and, alternately, Ipswich and Norwich.

      We will continue to argue for the railway to be electrified from the outset, and are hopeful that a better alignment may be found that would reduce impacts on the villages and landscape south-west of Cambridge.

      • Looking at this as a train system,

        why can not the east west trains not continue direct to say london, and replace the current trains that do the route ?

        That would mean the same number of train movements from Cambridge to say London, and the same number of train movements east west,

        people in say Cambourne or whatever would then get direct access to Cambridge, London, Stanstead and Gatwick.

        Its only if yo bring east west into the south of Cambridge that you start causing track capacity problems,

        • Quoting from my response above:

          One could run existing services that terminate at Cambridge or Cambridge North on to, say, Bedford or beyond. However, that adds operational risks: the longer the journey, the more likely there will be delays. As delays of more than 2 or 3 minutes would have serious knock-on effects for busy parts of the railway (such as south of Cambridge), timetables would have to be extended to make allowance for those possible delays. That increases journey times and operating costs. It also means that people travelling east-west will have to change trains at Cambridge, adding more time to journeys, and reducing the relative appeal of train versus driving for those trips. One of the benefits of EWR will be to enable people living in, say, Ipswich, to travel to, say, Birmingham or Manchester without going via London. Having to make a connection at Cambridge will reduce that benefit.

          • Can you provide any insight into expected passenger numbers between Ipswich and Manchester, for example?

            Currently, the route takes around 4 hours via London, on entirely electric trains, with two changes. Crossrail will soon reduce this time by a smidge.

            With EWR, it would at best be a single change at Milton Keynes. MK-MCR is 1h37; IPS-CAM is 1h20. EWR IPS-MK will be ~2h.

            Assuming ~10-20 min change at MK, that route will be *no quicker* than existing routes. It will have one less change, and at present the whole IPS-MK section will be diesel. Even if OX-CAM is built as electric, IPS-CAM is not due for electrification for many years. CAM-NOR is even further down the pecking order (~2040-50 as currently planned)

            For IPS-Brum, the numbers are stacked even further against EWR. Similar logic applies between IPS-OX, NOR-Bristol etc etc. There are a surprisingly small number of paired stations for which direct EWR trains going through Cambridge would be seriously beneficial – and It’s not like thousands of people a day travel from Bury St Edmund’s to Milton Keynes. Do we even have projected numbers between pairs of stations yet?

            Of course the southern approach absolutely *relies* on these through-routes being supported, because without them it becomes pretty much inoperable due to so many trains terminating at Cambridge station from the south, all squeezing under Hills Road bridge… which is, I suspect, a large part of why proponents of the southern approach are so keen to push it. It’s a nice sales pitch, and I appreciate that changing views is difficult for those who have supported it for a very long time, but in the real world it just really doesn’t make that much sense I’m afraid.

            As for the Ox-Cam-KX option, is it really that bad? Trains currently run KL-Cam-KX; Oxford is only ~30 mins further than King’s Lynn. I suspect far, far more journeys would benefit from direct trains from Cambourne & Nothstowe towards King’s Cross, than from Ipswich to the west of Cambridge.

            And of course with a southern approach, few – if any – EWR trains would reach Cambridge North (with 1 Nor-Stn train staying, I suspect 1 Ox-Nor an hour would be the most they could hope for). I appreciate it’s not quite as big an employment hub as Addenbrookes (currently c.10,000 vs 20,000), but it’s still a sizeable location, and about to see a massive expansion as the sewage works site is rebuilt as housing and offices. Seems like an oversight for EWR to not frequently serve all of one of its key destination cities, no?

            Oh, and all of this talk about how terrible it is to not have direct routes as ‘changes put people off’….yet whenever anyone suggests that direct trains between our biggest new housing area (Northstowe) and our biggest employment hub (Addenbrookes) might be a nice idea, we get told “they can all sit on a bus stuck in city traffic for ages, or change at Cambridge North”. And if someone at Northstowe fancies working at the expanding employment hub just down the road in Cambourne (or vice versa), how do you propose they make that journey?

            I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. The 4-tracking argument north of Coldham’s lane is a pile of poo, and EWR co surely know it – hence why still no justification has been published. They’ve underplayed the similarly busy & hard-to-upgrade section between Shelford and Harston, and the general spaghetti-junction-like mess south of Cambridge station (even with 4-tracking). A southern approach would limit freight capability by forcing it all through busy Cambridge, the tight/slow Coldham’s Lane curve, and the single track through Newmarket & Warren Tunnel – rather than bypassing the city entirely via Milton & Soham – hardly a great idea when the shift to EV lorries makes putting more freight onto rail an increasingly good idea.

            Ignoring the 4-tracking thing, the only real positive for a southern approach is this direct E-W through trains issue…and not only is it of negligible benefit to relatively few people, as it stands it’s environmentally silly to swap people from electric to diesel; it incentivizes people to commute further than necessary (Work at Addenbrookes? Don’t live in Northstowe, move to Bedford!). And of course if – as is sensible and likely – Ox-Cam does get built with OLE, then we won’t be able to make best use of it, as we’ll have to buy and run loads of diesel hybrid trains along hundreds of miles of electrified track in order to do the last bit to Norwich or Ipswich on diesel power for the first decade or two of operation.

            Approach from the north, and either terminate at Cambridge South or continue (where space) to KX/Stn. Move Ipswich trains to an east platform at Cambridge, with a 3rd track to Coldham’s Lane, leaving minimal trains crossing in the busy section. Shift the terminus station at Cambridge North to the middle, so GA trains reversing there don’t block oncoming traffic. 2 tracks north of Coldham’s Lane is then plenty, particularly with ETCS, bidirectional running etc, even with extra trains to Norwich and Wisbech in future. If you need more capacity, swap at least some Norwich trains onto the Newmarket route. Freight bypasses Cambridge entirely. plenty of space left to expand future services between Cambridge and London for decades into the future, with far fewer at-grade weaving through the Cambridge spine making timetabling much easier. Immediately sign off OLE for Ox-Cam, without needing to worry about timing of upgrades east of Cambridge. Less extra track needed through Cherry Hinton and south of Cambridge South. No need to cross the A428 at a massive skew, instead have a shorter bridge over (or box tunnel slid under) the A14. No miles of 8-10m embankments, 20m cuttings and rises over big hills, just a modest embankment above the floodplain, and/or a buoyancy-neutral trench into it. Put road over rail.

            Lots of stuff you guys at Smarter Cambridge Transport do is really great, but I’m sorry, your arguments in support of a southern approach here just don’t do yourselves any justice. Indeed there’s a big red flag in that for this really complex, nuanced issue, where we’re still lacking crucial info on expected passenger numbers, freight traffic, 4-tracking technical justification, post-Covid travel and everything else…you’ve taken an entirely hard-line, one-side-only response. Is that really, honestly, how ‘smart’ people engage with things when they approach them with an entirely objective, open mind?

          • We have taken a considered view of the detailed technical documents published to date, plus analysis by rail experts. We haven’t taken a “hard-line” view, and we’ve acknowledged that there are ways in which a northern approach would be better than a southern approach. The challenge is to balance the pros and cons. We believe that EWR have so far done that in good faith, for a changing brief (e.g. the decision that Cambourne should be served was made very late in the day). There is still much more work for EWR to do to produce a business case, which will include modelling of passenger numbers and freight tonnage for all the different movements you describe.

            You say that, “The 4-tracking argument north of Coldham’s lane is a pile of poo, and EWR co surely know it – hence why still no justification has been published.” Yet, this is covered in considerable detail in Appendix F of the Technical Report, from page 68.

            We continue to lobby EWR for improvements to the current proposals. We are pressing for consideration of an alignment to the north of Haslingfield. We are also continuing to call for an unambiguous commitment to full electrification (i.e. as far as Felixstowe and Norwich in the east) as the default position. If other zero-emission technologies can fill gaps in the electrified network, then fine, but diesel locomotion should not be the default.

  • RE: Edward Leigh (27 May 2021 at 11:48)

    Thanks for your reply. I am taking it in good faith that you are indeed acting independently and entirely objectively, in a way you would be open to changing your views if sufficient new evidence were to arise. If I did not think that, there would be no point me even engaging in this conversation.

    ****
    4-tracking: You say “this is covered in considerable detail in Appendix F of the Technical Report”

    This, sadly, has become one of the infamous bang-head-against-wall phrases in this whole debacle. I expect it from the PR spin machine of EWR Co, but coming from yourselves, I’m afraid, makes my above “good faith” assumption increasingly hard to justify to myself.

    Why? Because while it spends tens of pages going to great lengths to explain how terrible the *consequences* of 4-tracking would be, it offers only a brief *statement* (@2.2.4) – without any actual technical justification – to actually explain why it would be needed in the first place. The only “detail” it offers is to say

    1) “EWR & Ely trains conflicting at Milton” (have they assumed an at-grade junction here? That’s odd, because elsewhere they assume it’ll be grade separated! Cherry-picking much?)
    2) “Cambridge station platform conflicts.” This is (I assume – again no detail given) this is based on the unnecessary assumption of EWR [email protected], and no new eastern platforms to serve Newmarket-bound trains or 3/4-tracking from Cambridge to Coldham’s Common (the easy bit, in both N and S proposals). That’s odd too, as they (quietly) accept a southern approach would likely require a pair of new platforms at Cambridge.

    I’m happy to be proved wrong, of course. If you genuinely believe your above statement, then it should be easy enough for you to copy and paste the relevant text from Appendix F in a reply on here, right? I’m expecting to see comment on trains/hour, heading times, crossovers/hour, ETCS, perhaps references to other locations (or even published papers), that kind of thing. Some actual technical justification, rather than just “we did a study and think it’s not possible. Honest guv”.

    Copy, paste, directly from Appendix F. Go on, I dare you.

    ****
    Electrification: You say “ We are also continuing to call for an unambiguous commitment to full electrification (i.e. as far as Felixstowe and Norwich in the east) as the default position.“

    Around half of the UK’s railway lines are currently electrified. It is not unreasonable to think that any new ones constructed will be built with OLE. However, I’m sure an industry insider such as yourself is well aware of the political pressures to swiftly upgrade many busy, existing lines as soon as possible. There are many such lines – much in the north of England – which are desperate for this upgrade, and highly deserving of it.

    The line from Norwich to Ely is much quieter than many of these, and as such is much lower down the priority list – currently scheduled for between 2040 and 2050, 10-20 years after EWR opens. Fair lobbying is fine, but I’m sorry, if you think there’s a genuine chance that ministers at the DFT and Treasury will say “sorry Midland Mainline, you’ll have to wait a few more years, because Great Aunt Doris in Thetford wants to visit her sister in Bletchley, and she’s terrified of walking across the pedestrian bridge at Cambridge North on the way there, so we’re going to upgrade that quiet little line through the middle of nowhere first”…then I fear you really are seriously misguided.

    Now I know it’s nice to dream, but this *really matters*, because it’s not just a nice-to-have add-on. Electrification is your stated #1 priority, and whether or not the Eastern section is upgraded at the same time is pretty central (alongside 4-tracking) to your argument that the southern approach is preferable. So the fact that you’re relying on something which has near-enough zero chance in Hell of coming to pass in order to justify your preferred solution is, quite frankly, terrifying.

    ****
    Some other questions I’ve yet to hear answers for. Perhaps you can enlighten me

    1) The southern approach’s busiest 2-track section is between two busy junctions at Shelford and Harston. It is about as busy as the northern approach’s section between Coldham’s Lane and Cambridge North, even including future expansion of Norwich & Wisbech trains. It also has a *much* higher chance of needing significant further capacity increases in the future, as it connects the phenomenally busy and growing Cambridge-KX corridor. ~40 pages on the bit north of Coldham’s Lane, yet hardly anything on the destruction right through the Shelfords and under the M11. EWR Co admit they’re not even sure whether that section would need 4-tracking in their proposal immediately, yet decline to do any assessment of the costs thereof. Does that seem balanced to you?

    2) Which pairs of stations would stand to significantly benefit from EWR trains travelling direct across Cambridge? Is that benefit dependent on electrifying the Eastern section (see above)? Approximately how many passengers, per train, do you expect to continue through Cambridge without boarding/alighting?

    ****
    Looking through the exec summary of Appendix F:

    1.1.4: A northern approach is feasible. Their concern is that crossing the wide A14 is expensive. However, a 90 degree crossing there would be shorter than the highly skewed A428 crossing east of Cambourne currently proposed in their preferred alignment, so this argument is void. Do you agree?

    1.1.5: They accept that without an Oakington station, journey times would be no worse. They mention the need to elevate (modestly) above the flood plain – but now we know the extent of earthworks needed on a southern approach, this again is somewhat moot. Thoughts?

    1.1.7 &10: They admit their analysis is based on the (widely debunked) assumption that a northern approach could not directly serve Cambridge South. Curiously, they fail to note the lack of southern approach trains regularly serving Cambridge North. Not exactly a balanced assessment, eh?

    1.1.11: “poor/wet ground conditions between Oakington and Milton”. Flood maps show ~1 mile of flood zones at Oakington, then nothing right up to the Milton junction. It’s not like this area is Middle Earth’s “Dead Marshes” – it’s already covered in housing new & old, and major roads. Indeed the existing Cam-Ely line is almost entirely within Flood Zone 3, and it has sat quite comfortably on a tiny little embankment for a century. The other arguments here are dependent on the disputed 4-tracking

    • To answer your first question, the whole of sections 2.2 and 2.3 of Appendix F describe the operational and economic aspects of a northern approach for the Milton–Cambridge section of track. However, it doesn’t provide the level of detail you ask for. Since you’re view is that they’ve fiddled the timetable modelling, ask EWR for the detailed working. 2.2.12 mentions the option of a grade-separated junction at Milton to keep the EWR trains on the east of the track set.

      It is an omission that EWR did not model having London services extended onto EWR, which would provide connections to all three Cambridge stations. However, it is difficult to see how this would work for both eastern and western branches of EWR. That’s important because Newmarket, Bury St Edmunds and, once developed, the airport site, also need good connectivity to Cambridge South. The airport site will, like NE Cambridge, be a mixed-use development that will create a new (fifth) business/research centre on the east side of the city. That will need to be able to draw employees and visitors in by rail from a wide catchment area.

      Your polemic about electrification of the Ely–Norwich lines is overstated. Electric-diesel bi-mode trains are already running on this line, and could cover Oxford–Ely under electric power. It’s not ideal, but it is a solution that exists today.

      You’re right that the two-track section between the Harston and Shepreth junctions is a weak point in the proposed scheme. It’s a point we will be making in our response to the consultation. The wording of the report is not as vague as you suggest, though it does admit there is uncertainty that requires more detailed timetable modelling:

      11.4.1 … Analysis undertaken by EWR Co has shown that it is most likely that the SBR can remain as a twin track railway as there is sufficient existing capacity to be able to add the EWR services required to achieve the Project Objectives and leave spare capacity for an increase in services in the future. …
      11.4.2 The working assumption for the operational timetable will be assessed further in the next design phase to confirm that it is correct. …

      The main advantage of EWR running east-west is that it provides direct connectivity from the east and west to Cambridge South, Cambridge central and, in future, Cambridge East. Cambridge South is important because, not only is it the largest employment site in Cambridge, the hospitals (another three of which are due to be built) draw large numbers of outpatients and visitors from a wide catchment area. Cambridge central station is obviously a major destination for employment, social and leisure visits. Cambridge East I covered already.

      Clearly trains entering from the south cannot serve both Cambridge North and East, but there will be a high frequency of trains between Cambridge and Cambridge North, so it will still be relatively quick to reach no matter which direction you enter Cambridge from.

      It is a fair argument that Northstowe would benefit from a rail station. However, the Guided Busway is accessible from all parts of Northstowe, whereas a railway station would be on the southern edge. Therefore the total journey time, including the first “mile” and wait times, is likely to be quicker by guided bus (potentially running every five minutes) to Cambridge North, where there will be a much higher frequency of train services to catch.

      As for longer-distance journeys passing through Cambridge, it will of course be a minority of trips, but mode-shifting longer trips to rail has a significant impact on transport carbon emissions, and reduces pressure on London terminal stations and Tube services. In your earlier response, you mentioned Crossrail (Elizabeth Line). I’m sure you’re aware that it doesn’t connect Liverpool St to King’s Cross, Euston or Marylebone, so it doesn’t help people in Ipswich making trips to destinations on the East Coast, Midland Mainline, West Coast or Chiltern lines. (Incidentally, I think it was a poor decision not to link HS2 and EWR, without which it may still be quicker to go via London to reach Scotland from places like Cambridge.)

      The cost of crossing the A14 is significant because of the spans reuired to bridge eight lanes (plus the A1307 and access road to the north), and the economic impact of disruption to the A14. You’re right, this is balanced against the costs of building a skewed bridge over the A428.

      The only thoughts we have on embankments is that the route alignment and design should minimise the height of them to reduce visual impacts and severance. If a different alignemnt or tunnelling through Chapel Hill would enable a reduction in the embankment heights on the southern approach, that would be far preferable.

      I’ve covered the relative merits of serving different Cambridge stations above.

      You’re right that any route would require building through some flood-zones, so it’s not a determining factor in the choice between them.

      I trust you will be making your observations and suggestions directly to EWR, as discussion here does not form part of the formal consultation?

      • This is the absolute first time I’ve ever heard about a station and/or development at Cambridge East. Would you mind pointing me in the right direction to find out more about this?

      • Hi Edward, thanks for the reply.

        So while I appreciate your suggestion that I “speak to EWR Co and engage with the consultation”, I think it’s really worth stressing quite how much frustration there is among the public at the lack of reply to any such endeavors. EWR Co’s entire strategy, from what we’ve seen, has been to stonewall, to offer soundbites and to refuse to meaningfully engage on the substantive questions. They have no direct social media presence, but several key people linked with the scheme have been nothing but dismissive (and at times outright hostile) on Twitter. It is clear EWR Co are not really listening to the public. But they listen to you, and they listen to Railfuture – which makes you and Peter perhaps the two most important people in all of this, because you’re the two who are actually answering questions with some balance. That’s why you now have 40-something comments on this post – and I will say I am really grateful that you do seem to be genuinely listening, even if I find some of your arguments hard to stomach. But these are such critical points that in the interests of the future of our great city, they are conversations absolutely worth having, to try and bash out the best solution. I strongly suspect EWR Co have already made up their mind and we’ll both ultimately be disappointed, but we can at least try. I’m willing to adapt my arguments as I learn more, and have done substantially in the last few months; I hope you take a similar approach.

        ****
        4-tracking: Please be careful, and do not put words into my mouth. I do not accuse anyone of ‘fiddling’ the modelling; my argument is that it looks like they used a sub-optimal version of the ‘northern approach’ when carrying out their modelling (e.g. terminating at Cambridge rather than Cambridge South), though the lack of detail published means we cannot know, hence the problem. I appreciate that E-W through trains are a priority for yourselves and Railfuture, but it’s worth stressing that it is not a core part of EWR Co’s remit, and doesn’t, for example, appear anywhere on their website. I fear you are either being disingenuous or (more worryingly) naïve by suggesting I ask EWR Co for a response: CBRR have been asking this question via public forums, private meetings and even through legal representatives for two years or so now, to complete stonewalling. It was asked in detail in a Cambridge Independent article last month: EWR Co were given as many words as they liked to reply, but chose to say nothing more than the statement of “There are no technological solutions to this capacity problem”. You don’t have to think they’re outright fiddling to the figures to at least raise an eyebrow at that lack of clarity, surely? If you think you can extract further information from them and share it, many of us would be incredibly grateful. But please, don’t you dare suggest we’ve not tried.

        ****
        Harston 4-tracking: I’m glad you agree that this issue needs more detail. Given that, if needed, it would cause a huge amount of extra cost, disruption and destruction to the Shelfords and the M11, would you accept (on this point alone) that EWR Co have erred in deciding on a southern route before this work has been done? Or are you sufficiently keen for a southern route anyway, that (as with many other issues) you are happy to gloss over them and remain committed to defending their southern approach regardless? If the answer to the latter is yes, can you look yourself in a mirror and still say you’re approaching this with clear and transparent objectivity?

        ****
        Electrification: Diesel hybrids are more expensive to buy, run and maintain (two sets of engines and a big fuel tank). Do you really think its better to buy and run up to 4/h of these things along hundreds of miles of electrified track, just so they can manage the last section to avoid a few people changing in Cambridge? For a 6h+ round trip (not including extensions to Bristol etc) you’d need 24+ of these running at any one time, plus spares (at least a dozen more than even with 2/h Nor-Cam and Ips-Cam and a northern approach). Just to avoid a very small number of people grabbing a coffee as they change in Cambridge. Really? I’m sorry, I know you’ve wanted these direct trains for a long time, but…seriously?

        ****
        Direct trains to places across Cambridge: I had to read your argument about serving Cambridge stations a few times – it sounded good the first time, but I’m not sure it’s quite as strong as you think it is. There is a perfectly decent proposal for terminating EWR trains at Cambridge South, and it may not even need any more platforms compared with the current design proposed (as you can use the central pair primarily for EWR, and the outer pair for most of the 9/h through-trains). Quad-tracking from Cambridge to Cambridge South means reverse-switching doesn’t interfere with through routes. This would allow all EWR & Norwich trains to call at all Cambridge stations, and Ipswich trains (as now) calling at two of them (+ Cambridge East). Compared with that, the only advantage of your proposal for Cambridge destinations is some EWR trains reaching Cambridge East – and on the flipside most passengers from both Northstowe and Cambridge North would need to make at least one change. I think you need to be really careful about picking-and-choosing arguments: you can’t say “we really need direct trains from Cambourne to Cambridge East” and also say “Northstowe & Cambridge North passengers can easily change on route to Cambridge South” [I paraphrase], particularly when the latter will involve far, far higher passenger numbers. I’m sorry, but it’s exactly this kind of spin which people are so frustrated at, because it permeates EWR Co’s technical documents.

        ****
        Northstowe: Its worth stressing that a Northstowe station is an option for a northern approach, not a necessity. One issue is capacity (though of course the developers, council etc wouldn’t dare admit it given the embarrassment it’d cause). You say a bus every 5 minutes? Even at a squished 100/bus, that’s 1,200/h. Serving a population of 25,000 (so on the order of 10k commuting workers) at Northstowe, plus getting on for the same again elsewhere on the route between Huntingdon and CN. Do you really think that’s sufficient? I’m aware that your colleague Jim C wants a-bus-a-minute (woe betide any wheelchair users needing a little longer to board!) and hundreds more busses up and down the M11, but is that really a sensible use of resources? Northstowe and Addenbrookes are our fastest-growing residential and employment sites respectively, and I suspect faced with walk-bus-train-walk (CS is still nearly a mile from Addies’ main entrance), many will jump in their cars and head for (at best) Trumpington P&R instead. Yes, a station would be on the edge of town, but a short cycle from home to the train, with a few short bus loops for those who’d rather not, would solve that issue (indeed one of the biggest issues with rail design generally is the lack of last-mile transport integration). Cambourne is growing fast too, and having no decent direct links between there and Northstowe/Cambridge North seems an oversight, especially if the best alternative you have is better connectivity for the non-existent “Cambridge East”, which seems to have appeared as a Deus-Ex-Machina last resort in your increasingly tenuous attempts to justify E-W direct trains, (which still seems to be the only stated motivation for all your arguments – correct me if I’m wrong?)

        ****
        Long-distance E-W: I’m glad you accept numbers will be small. They will also be largely occasional use, not commute, and thus mostly outside of rush hour (given massive fare differences), so I’m afraid I don’t buy the “pressure” statement. Crossrail connects Liverpool Street (end of the Nor/Ips line) with Paddington (for Oxford, Bristol & Heathrow). Marylebone and Euston are a single tube ride and a few minutes’ walk from Liverpool Street. We’re not talking EWR or no-EWR, just a single change at Cambridge. Indeed to/from Norwich, the ~10 minute wait at Cambridge North would be largely offset by a shorter route-on-rails by avoiding Cambridge & Cambridge South. I can’t stress enough how this E-W direct through route has cascaded into the absolute central issue behind N vs S approach argument, so if these are the best arguments you have for it, then I am genuinely worried, and won’t deny I’m starting to question your true underlying motivations.

        ****
        A14: I’m glad you agree that a perpendicular crossing of the A14, though a wider road, would probably be shorter and cheaper than a highly skewed A428 crossing. But why, in your answer, does your wording still try to spin it? Economic impact from sticking another bridge over the A14 (and not the A428?). Really? You have some decent arguments; this kind of thing just does you a disservice.

        ****
        Embankments: Again, I do worry that when something is in your favour, you go to considerable length to stress how important minutia are (how many peeps need a direct train from EWR to Cambridge East? That seems to underlie most of your arguments here, and we have no idea if it’ll ever even happen, let alone become a major part of Cambridge!)…but when faced with really quite significant concerns, you’re happy to give a vague “oh, it’ll be fine, they’ll improve it” reply. This is one such issue. Between Cambourne and Harston is a pretty sizeable valley, around 30 metres deep, with some pretty boggy ground in the middle. It’s actually quite hilly, too. I entirely agree that we should lower the track where possible, put road over rail in most places, and ideally build a tunnel through Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, though, the associated increase in costs will be huge – otherwise they’d have picked that option to start with – and unless you stick it in a very long tunnel and trench, including under the A10 and with a sunken grade-separated junction (mahusively expensive), even with a basic tunnel past Haslingfield you still have a vertical rise of some 30 metres or more between Bin Brook and a flyover on the KX line, across undulating terrain. EWR’s current “Great wall” is tweakable, but I don’t think it’s likely to change that much – so if that’s genuinely the focus of your argument, then I fear it’s a waste of political capital (and will raise eyebrows about whether it’s a deliberate red herring, from those who question your independence).

        The northern route, conversely, is much flatter, and while flooding and potential soft soil will require some engineering solutions (very modest embankments and/or buoyancy-neutral trenches), they are almost certainly going to be much simpler, cheaper and less intrusive. Perhaps EWR Co have carried out extensive geotechnical surveys and costings for this…but given their published work amounts to little more than saying “it’s flat and wet, so we think it’ll be hard to build on”, I wouldn’t put money on it.

        But yeah, to reiterate, of course I’ve pressed EWR Co on these issues (in letter, in chat, by phone and in published media), and have had nigh-on zero genuine response to my specific Qs. One of their consultants, a senior chap at Cambridge Econometrics no less, called my Indy article (which sought to simply ask some questions and open up the discussion) “mendacious nonsense” in public on his professional Twitter account. Without offering any rebuttal, and immediately before blocking me. All I did was ask why their response didn’t mention electrification, provide a technical justification of 4-tracking, or discuss whether freight demand should factor into routing decisions, none of which as I understand it could be considered in any way mendacious. Makes you wonder about their office culture and internal professional working environment, no? So if nothing else, I’m at least thankful for your courteous responses to my questions – you and Railfuture’s Peter are the only ones to do so to date, sadly.

        I guess the final questions to you would be: Do you, having read EWR Co’s proposals and having had some of the glaring inconsistencies and omissions pointed out, still trust that they have done a sufficiently sound and genuinely objective assessment of the two options in good faith, based on the best possible versions of both routing options? Do you honestly think that the key mitigations you are asking for (eastern electrification – or dozens more diesel hybrids, moving the Cherry Hinton Line, a station at Comberton, a tunnel at Haslingfield or a route north thereof) are genuinely achievable? And do you have any concerns whatsoever that you may be giving too much prominence to your desire for direct E-W through trains, at the expense of a series of disadvantages from the southern route? As someone to whom EWR Co and Railfuture actually listen, you have a huge amount of power in this – more, I suspect, than you realise. Great responsibility and all that.

        Our futures are in your hands. In the words of a drag queen: Good luck, and don’t **** it up!

        • Let me clear: we have no privileged contact with EWR. I have asked to discuss some of the issues about the current proposals and rejected options, and am still awaiting a response (other than a call from one of their engagement team encouraging me to respond to the consultation).

          Your points and all of the discussion simply demonstrate how difficult it is to come to a view. For many people, specific details are red lines that make an option intolerable. That is true of every option; there isn’t one that nobody will object to. There are gaps in the reports, and possibly in the analysis, which EWR need to address. Modelling of different patterns of train movements (i.e. east-west through-journeys requiring an interchange) is one of them.

          There are huge uncertainties that have a significant bearing on this project, e.g. the number of freight movements along EWR; the government’s rail electrification strategy; the impact of switching to Passenger Service Contracts on rail fares; redevelopment of NE Cambridge and the airport; whether and which way Cambourne/Bourn Airfield will expand further; the scale of modal shift to rail as part of decarbonising transport; etc. All of this makes it very difficult to forecast what movements of people and freight we need to design the railways for. One response is to say, let’s wait and see. The other is to say, let’s use the best available evidence and judgement to make progress now in the knowledge that new evidence can still change the outcome any time in the next few years before a final decision is made (in the granting by Parliament of a Transport and Works Act Order). That will be subject to a public enquiry, which is why it is important that all questions, objections and suggestions are put on the public record in this consultation, so that EWR must address them.

          Although we are currently of the view that a southern approach is, on balance, the better option, based on what we have seen from EWR to date, we nevertheless want to be clear, as you do, that the evidence used to eliminate the northern approach (and indeed a more northerly southern approach) is accurate and has been analysed soundly.

          A couple of specific points: I didn’t agree that the A14 bridge would be cheaper than the proposed A428 bridge. We simply don’t know, as we don’t have a quantity surveyor on the team. [Point about Cambridge South platforms removed as it was incorrect.]

          • Hi Edward.

            Thanks again for your reply. I’m sorry to hear you’re in fact in the same boat as we are in terms of non-replies from EWR Co. I wasn’t aware of that, and makes the whole situation even more concerning.

            I’m also really heartened that you accept that the scenario has so many unknowns, and that their analysis leaves many unanswered questions – that’s quite a shift from your OP and earlier comments, which are very strongly in favour of a southern approach.

            Your ‘red line’ quip is curious – I assume a big one of yours is direct through E-W through routes? If there’s one thing I want to push you on, it’s that I think such a position is worth rethinking incredibly carefully about given the benefits/consequences, whatever your historical views.

            On the terminating at Cambridge South issue specifically, I’ve sketched this out in quite some detail myself, and really don’t think more than 4 platforms is needed. There will be 9 thru trains and 4 terminating from the north, plus occasional freight (because as much as possible will be diverted via EWR/Milton/Soham). Four tracks to the north; condensing to two within a mile or two to the south. The outer two tracks and platforms can be used in the main for the 9 through-trains an hour (5 mins/train is plenty, even with sub-optimal timetabling, leaving capacity spare). The middle pair of tracks, and one of the middle platforms, can then easily cope with 4/h terminating EWR trains, offering ~13 minutes or so dwell time if necessary. The other middle platform can then provide additional ad-hoc support as needed: If EWR trains need to wait for more than ~13 minutes, then services could alternate between the two platforms. Beyond that, it could be variously used for freight trains to run straight through, a buffer to smooth out delays or bunched trains queueing for their normal outer platform, that kind of thing. We’re talking 9+9+4=22 trains in both directions combined per hour, about one every 3 minutes in the whole station….do you really think four platforms can’t easily cope with that?

            Although we disagree on much, I’m grateful for your time, and hope that at least some of my comments have helped enhance your own thoughts? Thank you

          • I realised after I wrote it that the comment I made about Cambridge South station was incorrect (EWR freight trains wouldn’t be passing through Cambridge South, though some freight trains from Ely would, as now). The issue is more about avoiding up-down crossing movements, which greatly reduce track capacity, and which may require Shepreth Branch Junction to be grade-separated whether or not EWR trains use it. It would be good to see timetable modelling of train movements as you describe as it does meet the project objectives of having trains from the east and west both reaching Cambridge South.

            The ‘red line’ point is not a quip: it’s a reality of how people and organisations make most decisions. Smarter Cambridge Transport’s red lines are mostly abstract, relating to sustainability, integration and social equity of transport solutions. It certainly isn’t a red line that trains must travel east-west through Cambridge. Rather, the pattern of service must facilitate the greatest possible modal shift from cars and trucks. The breadth of expertise and interests in our team ensure that we balance transport objectives with, for instance, public health, environment, ecology and landscape.

        • My view on your question as to why Mr leigh seems to spin things towards the proposed ew rail link,

          can only be that they have some relationship with, or gain to be made by the link,

          May be they are employed by a PR team to try to find out all the possible arguments against the proposed ew route ?

          • Idle speculation, I’m afraid. Nobody on the Smarter Cambridge Transport team is employed by East West Rail Company in any capacity whatsoever. We stake our reputation on being impartial.