Looking at the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Cambridge South East Transport Study consultation, you may be wondering what happened to the idea of reopening the Haverhill railway from Great Shelford, which the Rail Haverhill group is still campaigning for.
It was appraised by consultants WSP in 2015 and found to have a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 0.99. That in effect means it would just about pay for itself over 60 years. The ratio needs to be closer to 2.0 to justify public investment.
By comparison, the BCR for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway was appraised at just 0.21. In justifying pursuing that scheme regardless, council officers are emphatic that BCR analysis severely underestimates wider benefits and growth beyond what is already committed to in the Local Plan. The same argument must of course apply to a Haverhill to Cambridge railway.
However, the case for the Haverhill railway is much stronger than WSP concluded. Their forecast was for 1.8m trips (one-way) per year. The Guided Busway carries 4m trips per year. The current population served by the St Ives Busway is about 36,000. The population that would be served by the Haverhill railway in 2030 will be in excess of 55,000 – or 68,000 if North Uttlesford New Town goes ahead.
Council officers confidently assert that the Cambourne to Cambridge busway will quickly reach a similar patronage to the existing busway, even though the population served in 2030 is forecast to be around 30,000, and a large proportion of the existing busway’s 4m trips are actually on the Trumpington section, or don’t touch the busway at all.
Is it reasonable to forecast half as many trips for the railway as a busway serving half the population? Consider too that the line will serve some of the largest employment sites in south Cambridgeshire.
Extrapolating from the St Ives busway to the Haverhill railway provides a forecast of about 3.75m trips/year.¹ With an average single fare of £2.50, that yields £560m revenue over 60 years (at today’s prices). This translates to a BCR of 1.85.
That BCR is a first approximation. It would be higher still if more detailed account were taken of the journey time benefits of rail versus car; and if account were taken of the benefits of shifting freight from road to rail. Haverhill’s economy is dominated by industry, so having direct access to Felixstowe and the rest of the rail network (which will include East-West Rail by 2035) would be attractive.
So why isn’t reopening the railway still under consideration? You have only until Monday 9 April 2018 to submit your response to the consultation.
¹I have assumed that two thirds of busway trips are on the St Ives to Cambridge section, based on the number of passenger-seats available on buses arriving in Cambridge between 8 and 9am on a weekday: 1,140 on the St Ives busway (services A, B, N and C), 528 on the Trumpington busway (services A, R and U). I have excluded 5% of the 4 million annual busway trips as an estimate of the number of trips that do not touch the busways. That provides a figure of just over 2.5 million for passenger journeys on the St Ives busway. Multiply it by the relative size of the populations served (just over 50% more in the Haverhill–Cambridge corridor) and we have a forecast ridership of 3.75m trips/year.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 28 March 2018 and has since been revised to correct the overestimated population of Haverhill and resultant estimate for the BCR, and to add mention of freight.