Categories
Business Case

The Case Against East West Rail’s Central Section

Jeremy Hunt, Our sharp-eyed new Chancellor. Will he spot Nellie, the elusive EWR Central Section White Elephant? Find out on 17th November 2022 when he presents the Autumn Statement. See also bonus photo for Nellie fans at the end of this post.

This post publishes an open letter from Great Shelford resident Annabel Sykes to Anthony Browne MP and sets out her thinking on why the EWR Bedford to Cambridge Section should be dropped.

10 November 2022 

Dear Anthony 

I am writing not only in my local capacity, but also as a concerned taxpayer. 

In my opinion, East West Rail (“EWR”) central section is, at best and subject to some critical preconditions (explained in the next paragraph), a possible nice-to-have.  By contrast, some things are essential, most relevantly a coherent solution to Cambridgeshire’s severe public transport issues (including the building of Cambridge South station).   

EWR central section will not make a meaningful difference to  this essential objective, for the reasons explained at 1 below, and for a minimum of around £5 billion[1] of taxpayer’s money (2021 figures, so before the current high level of building inflation), does not represent any kind of value.  I also note that this is before any meaningful costs for extending EWR beyond Cambridge to the east are available. It would, in my view, be  very rash to make a decision to proceed with the central section of EWR (on any route whatsoever) without first having (a) a clear statement of its purpose (1(g) below), (b) a route which has been determined based on that purpose, (c) a public review of a business case and costs which are based on that purpose and (d) a proper costs estimate for the eastern section, again whatever route it follows (see 1(f) below for why). 

The Conservative Party’s 2019 Manifesto contains no express commitment to EWR.  The closest it gets is “We will also invest in improving train lines to…. East Anglia”.  The building of Cambridge South station and the Ely capacity enhancements, together with signalling upgrades and frequency increases on lines that can’t currently be used to get to jobs (see 1 and 3 below) could meet this commitment. 

1.  The Lack of Business Case for EWR Central Section

I should make clear that I am not an enemy of rail.  I live within hearing distance of the West Anglia Mainline (“WAML”) (inside the house, including at night) and I use the train whenever I reasonably can.  As I am over 60, it is relatively affordable, but both rail travel and station parking are expensive, especially for those between 30 and 60 (who don’t generally benefit from any discount on rail fares).  

I cannot see that EWR’s central section represents value for money or forms part of a coherent transport strategy for Cambridgeshire, for the following reasons:   

(a) Unlike some other places along the proposed EWR route, Cambridge is already very well connected by rail in all directions, including to the East Coast Main Line (“ECML”) (at both Hitchin and Peterborough).  In terms of east-west connection, it will also benefit from the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet road improvement scheme to which the Government has already committed.  There is a serious question whether it needs a third connection to the ECML.  If it does, the route 

needs very careful thought, having fully identified the link’s purpose or purposes (see (g) below).  This is a contrast with Bedford and points west, which do not currently have a link with ECML and, in general (with the exception of Oxford) don’t have rail links as extensive as Cambridge. 

(b) A draft Strategic Narrative for EWR prepared by Steer for the East West Main Line Partnership (“EWMLP”) suggests that Cambridge (among others) has a lower than average level of commuting into its centre for an economy of its size and importance. Assuming this is correct, it may well have more to do with (i) the positioning of the stations relative to places of employment (something which will be significantly improved with the building of Cambridge South station) and (ii) the timing, frequency and cost of the existing rail services, than to any lack of connection.  For example, I met someone recently who lives in Soham and drives into Cambridge to her place of work because the services from Soham are not frequent enough to allow her to use them to commute.  The previous mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority was fond of pointing out that Manea and March have stations, but they can’t be used to commute regularly to Cambridge because of lack of sufficient services (either quantity or hours).  Wisbech no longer has a station.

(c) In saying this, I do not ignore the very serious public transport problems in much of Cambridgeshire and especially in Cambourne and other new towns.  I am, however,  not convinced that a service which stops at St Neots/Tempsford and Cambourne and swings round to the new Cambridge South station will make much of a dent in this problem.  A holistic approach is needed; the nearly £5 billion estimated cost of the central section of EWR2could potentially provide a far wider-ranging light rail/tram train type network[2].  This could encompass a reuse for this kind of transport of the line from Great Shelford to Haverhill (something that may be very difficult if EWR central section[3] goes ahead).  This wider solution has significantly greater potential to ease the congestion problems facing Cambridge and CBC than the EWR central section does.  Greater Cambridge needs transport solutions, not an aspirational growth accelerator (see (j) below). 

(d) The benefits EWRCo says it will provide are access to a wider workforce, increased availability of offices/wet labs, access to affordable homes and levelling.  These seem to me significantly more likely to come to Cambridge from the north and east than from the west.  As regards:  

i)        workforce – I have attached a diagram taken from the CBC Transport Needs Review which shows the origins of staff working at CBC (overwhelmingly hospital staff) by postcode, based on 2011 census data.   This suggests that some staff do, or did, travel in from the west (including Bedford) despite the lack of a railway connection and that the number of staff travelling from areas a roughly comparable distance away but with existing railway connections (Hitchin/Letchworth and Stansted/ Bishop’s Stortford) was not significantly greater.  The diagram shows a notable gap to the north west, but this may well have more 

2 See footnote 1 for source

to do with the fact that CBC hospitals were competing for staff with Hinchingbrooke and, at that time, Papworth Hospitals which were located in that area, than with the lack of a rail link.  More recent information suggests that a percentage of CBC hospital staff do now come from the Papworth and Huntingdon areas (this may well, in large measure reflect the opening of Royal Papworth at CBC).  I have also attached page 7 of the Greater Cambridge Housing Strategy 2019 – 2023, which does not suggest there is a particular issue for EWR’s currently proposed route to solve;

ii)         housing affordability – please see the attached map, which speaks for itself; 

iii)      levelling up – I have attached a diagram from the Government’s White Paper on Levelling Up published earlier this year.  On the whole, the left behind regions are north and  east (rather than west) of Cambridge. 

I am afraid EWRCo’s arguments do not convince me, and they should not convince you, that 

EWR’s central section has a business case.  They also did not convince the former Secretary of 

State for Transport, Grant Shapps, who made clear in the summer (in an interview with LBC on 11 July) that he would cut the second and third tranches of EWR thus saving £3 to 5 billion straight away.   Richard Fuller (MP for North East Bedfordshire) wrote to the then Secretary of State for Transport on 14 October 2022 asking for a full public review of the business case before any decision is made on EWR’s connection stage 2 and the central section.  He has also said that he is formally opposed to EWR[4].

(e) EWR’s central section is new railway.  However good EWR Co may have been at delivering the project on time and on budget so far (as they claim), they have essentially been upgrading existing railway.  The travails of HS2 show that new railway is much, much harder and that costs and timing can easily overrun by very significant amounts.  I also note that the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Project’s Authority has given EWR stage 2 and the central section a “red” rating (i.e. it does not believe the scheme can meet its objectives on time and within budget unless risks are addressed).   

(f) It is quite clear that Network Rail and others think that the full benefits of EWR will not be realised unless it continues further east[5].  Steer, for EWMLP, has been working on a pre-Strategic Outline Business Case for the eastern section for some time.  Network Rail’s recent East West Main Line Strategic Statement is clear-eyed on the many difficulties of upgrading the mooted route (being the line to Newmarket) save that it doesn’t mention the large number of level crossings[6].   Further, the appropriate route beyond Cambridge will depend on the answer to (g). For example, a more regular light rail or tram train solution may well be a preferable one for the Newmarket line if it is to remain a passenger-focussed service. 

(g) It is still not clear what EWR is for[7].   Some still think it is a high-ish speed Oxford to Cambridge link, some that it is a commuter railway.  At a recent Bidwell’s conference, Will Gallagher of 

EWRCo conceded that it was about “place-making”.  I understand this to mean (among other things) that it is a commuter railway.  This has a major impact on the business case, as does the question of whether freight will be important to it. Historically, freight was important to the Varsity Line.  If freight is important again, and Network Rail is clear that it potentially is[8], the currently proposed southern approach is highly unsuitable as it would run through significant residential areas of Cambridge, close to several large educational establishments and ironically (bearing in mind that almost all freight is diesel) past one of the country’s leading heart and lung hospitals. There are also some very considerable issues with the Newmarket line, including the narrow radius chord at Coldham’s junction. From this perspective, it is worth noting that EWR Co itself appears recently to have pivoted quietly towards freight[9]  and has made clear it expects to have an 18 hour operational window for freight services. 

(h) The central section (and indeed the remainder of EWR) will not join together large cities or towns. Cambridge, as we know, is a small city and Bedford borough is roughly 170,000.  The two proposed stopping points between (Tempsford/St Neot’s) and Cambourne are growing, but are  not predicted to become large.  This is of obvious economic significance and, unless there are other reasons to run heavy rail (see (g)) or it joins more communities, EWR feels like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  This is especially given its potentially damaging impact on South Cambridgeshire villages, which will see no benefit from it, and on farming and food security[10].  It also assumes that people will use EWR.  EWRCo have carried out a limited, carefully phrased survey which is on their website to bolster their position (see attached screen shot, which does not mention rail).  This contrasts with your own survey with a far greater number of respondents, which suggests that few residents in your constituency will use EWR regularly[11].   The radical bus network and sustainable travel zone proposals in the recent “Making Connections” consultation by the Greater Cambridge Partnership are relevant too.  EWR will not be able to compete on price with these.  

(i) EWMLP’s Building Better Connections the business imperative for East West Rail (“Building Better Connections”) makes some poorly-researched claims about the connectivity EWR will bring[12].  I was brought up in Hertfordshire so I can predict with some confidence that no-one would, in practice, catch a train from Welwyn Garden City to St Neot’s to take an EWR train west.  They would make the 17 minute drive to St Alban’s station instead. From Stevenage or Hitchin, it will almost certainly be more time efficient to drive to Luton station and use that route to get onto EWR westwards.   

(j) Cambridge appears to be very capable of growing by itself and it was widely acknowledged at a recent Bidwell’s Ox-Cam Arc conference that cities along EWR already are. EWRCo argues that it could super-charge this (the approach appears to be not predict and provide, but the fiscally irresponsible provide and hope).  There is, to my mind, a serious question whether if EWR were to succeed in increasing the growth rate (as it argues), Cambridge would overheat, with affordability concerns simply increasing in a vicious spiral.  There are, as you already know, 

significant issues with water and energy supplies in the Greater Cambridge area and deleterious impacts on the region’s precious chalk streams. 

(k) Cambridge South station is an essential addition to Cambridge’s rail provision and should be transformational for CBC, but it is a separate project from EWR and does not need EWR to succeed.  

 An Oxford to Cambridge railway line has nostalgic appeal and makes for good branding, but does it have a business case?  As regards the central section, I remain to be convinced on this and, if there is a business case, of the route that best serves its purpose, once that purpose has been clearly identified.   

2.  Community Liaison

EWRCo is not a transparent organization, both its consultations have been of a poor standard and it does not seem to enjoy talking to communities potentially impacted by the central section or see any need to keep them up-to-date in an effective way. 

The recent EWR organised Haslingfield drop-in is a case in point:   (a) I took a copy of the August FOI reply with me and asked the EWR representatives for programme and business case about its line “Cambridge Station and West Anglia Main Line £499,600,000”.  Each of them said they did not recognise it and had no idea what it related to[13].  I found this quite astonishing.  The business case person also said that the DfT “owns” the business case; 

(b) I asked why no drop-in event had been held in Great Shelford (every single proposal EWRCo has ever made runs through Great Shelford).   The answer was predictable warble.  The true answer is more likely that EWR Co assumes that holding something in central Cambridge is good enough, which it isn’t.  It simply demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the relationship between Cambridge and the communities in its southern necklace villages. 

The local representative groups recently established by EWRCo are another case in point.  EWRCo is either unwilling or unable to engage constructively with communities’ legitimate questions.  These meetings appear to be a “tick box” exercise.  In addition, the sparse attendance by councillors representing Cambridge City is interesting.  Two meetings were held for the city only group.  The first was attended by one councillor and the second was cancelled when no-one turned up[14].  The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the city is not very interested in EWR. 

Finally, Hannah Staunton (EWRCo’s Head of Communications) gave a notably unsatisfactory interview on Radio Bedfordshire on 18 October.  This is her answer to a question regarding when residents in limbo in Bedford will find out if their houses will be demolished. After expressions of sympathy, she said  “It has taken longer than we’d hoped…I don’t have a date for you at the moment, I am afraid.  We are still working on the feedback we received and we are looking at a number of other things as well… We are really are trying to make sure we are creating the best possible design that we can.. it almost goes without saying there are some decisions in central government that take a little bit longer to get through than we were hoping…..At the moment, it 

would be irresponsible of me to put a date out there”.    As you know, there are many people in South Cambridgeshire in a similar position of uncertainty as regards their homes, gardens or farms to those in Bedford.  Sustained pressure on EWRCo is required. 

3.    Improving Train Lines to East Anglia 

(a) I live in one of the better connected villages in South Cambridgeshire.  Not only is it an easy cycle into Cambridge, but it has a train station and a bus service (albeit subject to cancellations).  I nevertheless find myself driving more than I would like to.  For example, I would love to catch the train to Peterborough and Stansted Airport, but neither journey from Shelford is sufficiently regular or competes adequately with driving.  Even the journey to the airport, which is on WAML, involves a change if one starts at Shelford. 

(b) There are three problematic to severely problematic level crossings in South Cambridgeshire – one at Foxton and two in Great Shelford.  They are serious pinch points and need to be replaced with fit-for-purpose crossings of the railway line. 

(c) As noted above, there are a number of places which have stations, but very limited service.  For example, Bury St Edmunds has a population of over 40,000 and has good road, but astonishingly poor rail, connections, including with Cambridge.  Wisbech has no rail connections with Cambridge or anywhere else. 

(d) Network Rail’s Ely area capacity enhancement proposals would significantly improve connectivity and reliability for passenger services and meet the demand for more rail freight to and from Felixstowe.  They were not included in the Growth Plan and were, at minimum, rumoured to have been rejected by the Department of Transport in the summer, but are significantly cheaper and with more obvious benefit to parts of Cambridgeshire than EWR.  

(e) A comprehensive, integrated public transport system is what Cambridgeshire needs.  EWRCo’s lack of transparency and reluctance to liaise with anyone indicates that it expects everyone else to work around it and does not suggest it is approaching its mission with the open mind needed to make it a success.  There is a severe risk it will take a huge chunk of the transport budget Cambridgeshire might reasonably expect and make little, if any, real improvement to the trainlines to East Anglia.  

Cutting EWR’s central section is an easy win in these difficult financial times and I urge the Government not to hesitate.   

Yours sincerely 

Annabel Sykes 


[1] See attached reply of 17 August to a freedom of information request by Mohammad Attar (“August FOI reply”)

[2] An initiative which would be consistent with the Liberal Democrat 2019 Manifesto and was recently mentioned by Lucy Nethsingha – https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/cambridge-might-needlight-rail-after-all-says-county-counc-9277771/

[3] Revival of the link to Haverhill is supported by you, Lucy Frazer KC MP and Matt Hancock MP.  Cambridge Connect has been working with RailFuture East Anglia and others on developing tram train proposals, which can also run on existing heavy rail lines and thus avoid some of the problems identified for CSET2 (the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s partial solution for those currently commuting along the A1307) in adopting a rail route.  Reviving the Haverhill line would also give Sawston (a large village with a population of about 7,000) the station it wants and, unlike CSET2, serve the new Cambridge City football ground at Sawston.   

[4] Bedford Independent 24 August 2022

[5] See, for example, Network Rail’s East West Main Line Strategic Statement and EWMLP’s Building Better Connections

[6] See its page 61

[7] The Sponsor’s Requirements and Programme Wide Output Specification (see the relevant appendices of the Technical Report published by EWRCo as part of its 2021 consultation) lack clarity on this all important question.  They also assume that EWR must travel to Cambridge station.  Why?  There are already six trains an hour in each direction through Cambridge

[8] See page 61 of Network Rail’s East West Main Line Strategic Statement

[9] See this blog – https://eastwestrail.co.uk/latestnews/projectupdates/ourapproachtofreightjoannaanswersyourquestions

[10] See https://cambridgeapproaches.org/ewrimpactonfarmingandukfoodsecurity/  

[11] https://www.anthonybrowne.org/news/anthonywelcomesresidentsviewseastwestrail

[12] The example towns  mentioned in the next sentence already have direct rail connections with Cambridge

[13] My purpose was to find out whether this line item assumed grade-separation at Shepreth Branch Junction, which would be potentially devastating for Great Shelford and parts of Trumpington.  I am still in the dark on the answer to this question   

[14] The first meeting of the Cambridge City and Surrounding Areas Group was attended by some city councillors who appeared more interested in drowning out the inconvenient concerns of the southern villages than representing their electorate, the second of that group by very few

Another sighting of Nellie in the wild…
Categories
news

Reflections on EWRCo.’s Haslingfield Drop-In Event 12th October 2022

Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”

EWRCo. held their “no new information” drop-in event in Haslingfield, and they delivered as promised. There was indeed no new information about the proposed railway which has been blighting our communities since April Fool’s day last year.

Here at Cambridge Approaches we put in a lot of effort in to publicise their event (7,000 leaflets, 1,000 bin posters, social media campaign etc). We also invited the press along to see what was going on. This was the first chance most people have had to meet EWRCo. staff face to face. Why didn’t EWRCo. do any of that? The event was well attended and EWRCo., reported 550 attendees. Not bad on a working day for an event advertising no new information.

Illustration of the 10m high Embankments Proposed by EWRCo. for their Great Wall

Local farmer Edd also kindly parked his cherry picker outside the venue and set it to a height of 10m as specified in the latest Great Wall proposals from EWRCo., we also marked out the width of their proposed embankments to 70m. Seeing the height of it, the EWRCo. spokesperson was clearly in denial and was heard to say “it will never be that high”. We advise her to read her own consultation document.

In case they were in doubt about what we would like from them, hundreds of people had put out “Show Us the Business Case” on their bins along all the main roads through the surrounding villages and in Haslingfield.

Bin Posters “Show us the Business Case in Haslingfield and Surrounding Villages

And our request was answered. The business case appeared in the form of Nellie the pantomime EWR White Elephant with a price tag of £7.6billion. Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”

Steve also bought along a 3D map of the area so people could see what the effect of the railway would be locally. There was lots of interest from people attending the event.

Topographic map of the Haslingfield area with EWR proposals. This does not show what it would look like during the years of construction.

Meanwhile the Pantomime Continued in the Methodist Church

I didn’t meet anyone that was in favour of the proposed route, but maybe there were one or two.  Many residents were pretty angry, but we did not get to the situation reached at the Wyboston Lakes EWR drop-in where residents of the Bedford Poets area were so angry that EWR Co. felt they had to call in the police to calm things down. 

The drop-in meeting was bound to be difficult, since the interests of residents and the EWR Co. staff were clearly different and hard to reconcile. This was exacerbated by the policy of no new information sustained now for 18 months; the lack of briefing on predicable questions given to the EWRCo. staff and their generally low level of knowledge about the project. Staff turnover seems to be high and there were many new faces.

We had a de-brief session amongst some of the people from our campaign to exchange experiences we had had with the drop-in session. Here are some of the things we found.

Deflecting Questions

The job given to the poorly briefed EWRCo. staff was to stand talking to angry/upset residents for six hours while giving out no new information. Tough one that. Deflecting questions was therefore the core skill. Here are some of the techniques/answers that were reported on the day.

  1. I can’t answer that, I just want to build things.
  2. I’ve just been with EWR for 2 months, I’ll ask a colleague
  3. I wasn’t with the project then
  4. We are studying that
  5. Big infrastructure projects all do it this way, we’re following standard procedures
  6. Qu. Will you disclose the business case? Ans. The DfT owns the business case – Qu. but I asked DfT and they won’t disclose it because they don’t want to upset EWRCo. Ans. What was their exact wording?
  7. We’d like to publish the business case, but we are still progressing it
  8. We are looking at lowering the very high embankments
  9. On the subject of the route: “it has to go somewhere”
  10. You will need to speak to X, but they are not here today
  11. Qu. Can you find this out for me? Answer: “You need to use the normal contact point”.  Qu. “but I did two weeks ago and have not even received and acknowledgement.  Answer “Silence.”

Patronise

  1. I’ll talk to you when you have calmed down, I’m human and understand your concerns.
  2. There’s no point me answering that, you’re not going to listen to what I say. She then walks away and follows up with “Are you ready to talk?”
  3. ‘It’s not like ‘the Apprentice’ you know, it’s not a quick thing…it’s really complicated.

More Deflection

  1. We will compensate you if you have noise, vibration or mental distress. After [we build it] you will need to fill out a form to illustrate what is happening to your home and then we [will] evaluate it.
  2. We have already lost 10-20% of the value of our homes, will there be any compensation for that? – silence.

Conflicting Information

  1. On the question “Are you set on the southern approach to Cambridge? Answers included “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.

Waffle

These are best shown by example.

EWRCo. “We’ve made no decisions yet (route consideration). I wish I could tell you that but we don’t know. There’s business case with a capital B and C and business case with a small b and c. We don’t have passenger numbers but there are so many things to visit in the area we’re sure the railway will be used. Us: So the purpose of the line is tourism? EWRCo.: yes maybe..!”

On Radio Cambridgeshire the following morning, we were treated to the following. 

Dotty McLeod: “And in what way Hannah was it [the drop-in event] useful for you?”

Hannah Staunton: “It’s always helpful to be able to talk to the public, and really dial into some of the key topics and things that they’re interested in, that they could be concerned about as well. In some cases, it’s really helpful for us to be able to explain to people why some of the things that they are concerned about perhaps aren’t as concerning as they could be, or maybe talk to them about some of the benefits of the scheme that they haven’t otherwise heard. So, it’s really useful to gauge how people are feeling and what people are thinking, and then the team can go away and consider that as we go through the design and planning scheme.”

To be fair, we did not hear so much of the standard line “we are still going through the X billion pieces of feedback we received in the 2021 consultation and considering how every piece should influence what we decide” – or words to that effect. I guess even that does wear a bit thin after 18 months. In reality we are all waiting for the government to decide if they want to buy his white elephant.

Comment Please

Do join in with your experiences in the comments. If you actually learnt anything that would be even better.

Categories
Business Case

EWR: What is it Actually for?

EWR Under Construction September 2022 on existing route of old varsity line at the point where it crosses over HS2. There needs to be a very good reason to do this and more to South Cambs and the residents needs to know what that is.

In a recent meeting with our local MP, Anthony Browne we were left with the impression that the government of Boris Johnson was heading for cancellation of EWR CS3. But now there is a new government with a completely new set of ministers – what will they make of it?

EWR: Competition with Road

Here’s the thing. If you have a car and you want to get from Bedford to Cambridge would an East West Rail link get you out of your car and onto the train? Grant Shapps said recently in relation to the A428 improvements “only a small proportion of the proposed development’s traffic would reassign to the East West Rail scheme”. 

Mr Shapps is sceptical. Let me help you decide.

Would it be quicker? NO (see here)

Would it be cheaper? NO (see here)

Would it be more environmentally friendly? NO see below and here.

Have they published a business case? NO (but we have asked)

Have they published a full forecast of passenger numbers? NO (but only 18,000/year from Oxford to Cambridge/less than one per train, see §4.11 on this link).

The recent output from the EWRMLP here (1)  and here (2) do not address any of these issues. But they do contain some wonderful word salad. Here is my favourite piece from (1)

“With two thirds of the most powerful businesses of the future yet to be created, we need to ensure the UK is ready to create and scale the fast growth businesses of the future.”

Gosh, that’s deep. I mean how long a future does mankind have?

Steer, the authors of (2) have completely avoided the question of competition with road including time spent waiting for the next train and the first and last mile. That’s odd since it was the main point of the Network Rail EWR Strategic Statement published in March 2022. This illustrates the problem of paying consultants to provide evidence for decisions when you have already made up your mind. Not a great use of our public money that.

And so the Boondoggle that is EWR Co. rolls on.

EWR: The Growth Catalyst

In a recent article in the Cambridge Independent, EWRCo. explained that their railway will actually be a catalyst for economic growth. They obliquely refer to the OxCam Arc’s £163 billion transformational scenario contained in the NIC Partnering for Prosperity report. You know, the one with the million new houses by 2050? It has to be an oblique reference because Michael Gove cancelled the Arc back in February. However, popular though it wasn’t, rumours are now floating about that “the Arc will return” see for example here.

I find it hard to picture what an increase of £163billion in gross value added (GVA) looks like. For reference, GVA of Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) is around £1billion. I know what that looks like and can imagine the houses of the 20 thousand or so people who work there. The construction of 163 of those would be a tsunami of concrete across the area between Oxford and Cambridge (hence the green credentials of a railway who’s business case depends on that are suspect). No doubt EWRCo. would say that is out of scope for them. Perhaps an expert from Friends of the Cam could tell us what 163 CBCs would do to the river Cam.

A key point from the NIC report is that the “agglomeration factor” for the sprawling Arc is low compared with say, a city. That means the Arc, if constructed, would in the main just be moving around two million people from one place to another without really adding value. It would however emit a lot of CO2 in the process. See Prof. Roger’s more detailed explanation of this here. It would also be good for the construction industry and those that deal in property.

Whatever you feel about the OxCam Arc there is still the question of the mechanism by which completing the EWR, on its own, will trigger such massive growth over the period between now and 2050 (about 80% in the OxCam Arc compared with 16% nationally). “Partnering for Prosperity” proposed a lot more than just building the railway – there would be spatial framework, development corporations, expressway, local transport schemes etc. Not just a railway.

What we see from proponents of the railway are interviews with a few no doubt heavily prompted business leaders supporting EWR. First among these is AstraZeneca. AZ have built a large lab at the CBC and really just need the Cambridge South station to be built in order to get people to work. They are already committed to the area. The question for AZ and any of these businesses or potential investors is this. What more would you commit to invest in the area if EWR was built? So far, I have seen zero evidence of this linkage. Does infrastructure of marginal use attract investment? Even if it does, would we not be better finding some really useful infrastructure to build?

Which brings us back to the fundamental point. If EWR does not attract many passengers, why will it attract investment to the region?

Intercity vs Local Commute

EWR Co. have said themselves that most of the market for their railway will be from people commuting to the nearest city. That’s why we see local politicians trying to solve that problem with busses and local light rail schemes. They at least have an idea of the problem that needs to be solved. But even though EWR Co. call their railway a commuter line, it’s actually a fast, inter-city link but without any large cities on the route. 

Costs (they keep going up)

The Department for Transport recently responded to a freedom of information request and gave some new capital cost information for the currently favoured route into Cambridge (Amazing, I know). Aside from inflation increases there is a new line item of £499.6million for 4-tracking from Great Shelford into Cambridge station taking the total capital cost to just under £4.3 billion. In the previous round of costings, it seems that they assumed the Cambridge South station project would pay for that work.

Ouch. You could build a medium sized hospital for £500 million.

Then there is the cost of mitigating the Great Wall. If they do something how much more will that cost?

Vanity Project

Well that’s a tour of some of the issues with EWR CS3. Unless they come up with some better answers / evidence it really ought to be consigned to the dustbin.

However, sometimes projects go ahead even though they don’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps so that our new leader can say that she has delivered. I hope she is more thoughtful than that.

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news

EWR Co. Drop In Event – 12th Oct 2-8pm Haslingfield Methodist Church

New Date and Venue for Haslingfield Drop In Event
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news

EWR Drop In Event 9th Sept 2022 Postponed Again

Message from EWRCo.:

“It is with great sadness to learn of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

We have made the decision to postpone the East West Railway Company public drop-in event scheduled for 2pm on Friday 9 September.

We will share details of a rescheduled event.

If you have any questions, please call 0330 134 0067 or email contact@eastwestrail.co.uk”

It is of course the right decision.

Categories
Business Case news

East West Rail Co. Have Overstated EWR Benefits

In response to an open letter from Cambridge Approaches, EWRCo. tackled the important issue of the economic justification for the railway. They made the following statement.

By providing reliable, affordable and sustainable transport for people in and around Cambridge, businesses will thrive and grow, igniting an exciting ecosystem of business and academia that The Economist recently reported could contribute up to £274bn per year for the UK in gross added value. Seen in that context, the value driven by EWR is clear. More than that, it’s a catalyst for economic growth that will support the wider UK recovery.” East West Rail Co. Article in Cambridge Independent 16/8/2022

Implication – build EWR and you will get £274bn/year just from the Cambridge economy. Let’s fact check this claim.

The article they refer to in the Economist actually says:

“A study prepared by the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership in 2020 found that the region between Oxford and Cambridge contributed £111bn in gross value added to the economy every year; the government reckoned that could rise to between £191bn and £274bn a year if a programme of building created new homes and linked up towns by rail and motorway.” The Economist 20/7/2022

So the figure is actually £274bn -£111bn = £163bn for the whole area between Oxford and Cambridge inclusive, not just Cambridge. Which just happens to be the same figure as is quoted in the “Transformational” scenario of the National Infrastructure Commissions (NIC) report “Partnering for Prosperity” on the subject of the OxCam Arc.

Whoever wrote the article in The Economist clearly does not want to mention the OxCam Arc because they know that the government side-lined that project in favour of levelling up back in February 2022.

This NIC report is in turn based on work from Cambridge Econometrics which was analysed by Oxford Professor David Rogers as shown:

Prof. David Rogers analysis of Cambridge Econometrics Report underlying Partnering for Prosperity Report 6/5/2021

The part of the £163bn GVA attributable to transport and agglomeration is only 9.2% of the total. EWR Co. need to tell us what tiny fraction of that they think EWR will contribute – if the OxCam Arc Transformational scenario were adopted and they can entice a significant number of people to actually use their EWR.

EWRCo.’s article is probably overstating the benefit of building the railway by at least two orders of magnitude. Even that assumes that the OxCam Arc transformational scenario is actually built.

The same article from EWRCo. goes on, implicitly accepting that car owners may prefer not to use their EWR. More broadly, there are a variety of reasons why owning a car is not an option for many people. Perhaps the purchase, maintenance and running costs of a car are just too much, their homes do not have access to parking, they have physical limitations which don’t allow them to drive, or they are prioritising sustainability for themselves and their families.”

One question – how many of these highly-paid transformational scenario biotech workers are not going to be able to afford to run a car?

If you are reading this from EWRCo. and you can understand the issues pointed out, then I suggest you need to submit a correction to the Cambridge Independent or risk losing credibility.

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news

EWRCo. Drop In Event Haslingfield 9th Sept 2022 *** POSTPONED ***

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news Route Alignments

Outstanding Information Requests to EWRCo. August 2022 Update

File Containing Reasons for EWRCo. Chosen Approach To Cambridge and the Business Case.

The previous version of this saga was provided in this post back in February 2022. Here is an update.

Recap

During the EWRCo. 2021 consultation, we wanted to understand the fundamentals of how EWRCo. had arrived at their proposed approach to Cambridge. If an approach that required a Great Wall to be built through our villages, severing communities etc. was the best option, then so be it, at least we would understand why that was so. We have the same issues with the business case, but the FOIs for that are another story.

Previous experience with freedom of information requests indicated that we needed the request to be carefully written as any mistake might be used by EWR Co.’s legal team as a reason not to release the information. The Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations contain many exceptions and no doubt for good reasons. We had also noted that EWRCo. tended to refuse requests that other public bodies had accepted. This was in cases where people had asked EWRCo. and another public body for the same information.

We engaged our lawyers at Leigh Day to write a limited FOI request for the most important information. Separately we sent a less formal letter asking for information that did not fit the criteria for the Leigh Day letter. Leigh Day were asking for information already referred to in the 2021 consultation, but not provided.  As always EWRCo. waited the full 20 working days before responding to Leigh Day. They then threw the book at us. They went through all the requests CA had made and bundled that with the Leigh Day Letter. They worked out exactly how many hours they had spent responding to our requests. We would view that as time spent providing information that should have been available in the first place. Noting the association between CA and local parish councils, they even went through parish council minutes looking for statements they felt were unreasonable.

In their lengthy refusal letter, the request was labelled “manifestly unreasonable” and “vexatious”. We were a bit surprised, since all we were doing was asking for information that they must have had to support their 2021 consultation and preferred approach to Cambridge. They also accused us of deliberately timing the letter to land when they were busy with the consultation.

Maybe they were a bit stressed. Maybe their supporting information was not all that it should have been. After all who worries about documents that are never going to be published.

We then asked Leigh Day to write an appeal letter for an internal review, explaining in legal terms why the request should be answered including case law supporting that (especially the Dransfield case on vexatious requests).

To their credit EWR asked another senior member of staff to look at the case, he was an Engineer rather than a lawyer. In any event when the pressure of the consultation was over and they had time to look again at our request … they decided to stick with the decision not to disclose and for the same reasons as before. It was still in their view manifestly unreasonable and vexatious.

At this point we decided to refer the matter to the information commissioner’s office (ICO) along with another letter from Leigh Day explaining legally why the request should have been accepted. The ICO accepted that there was a case to answer but did not have anyone available to properly look at it. 

Update since February 2022

Time passed and we published a post on this blog setting out the information we had requested and our experience up to that point in getting it.  As a result of that, local MP Anthony Browne took up the case and wrote words to the effect that whatever issues EWRCo. had with Cambridge Approaches, he would like to see the answer to those questions.

EWRCo. refused that request as well on the grounds that the matter was now with the ICO. Clearly, it’s not about who asks for the information or when.

I note that the recent Lib Dem Statement on EWR, read out at the last SCDC meeting and kindly copied to us by Cllr Bridget Smith, contains the following paragraph.

EWR is a Government scheme being delivered by a private company resulting in poor accountability and little transparency. It has been an enormous frustration that government has kept residents completely in dark for years now about their intentions. This is a pitiful way of delivering a major piece of public transport infrastructure.

It seems that locally at least, there is some crossparty agreement on EWRCo.’s lack of transparency.

Months later and about a year after the original FOI request, the ICO looked at the case. They started by asking us if we still wanted the information. We did. They also asked EWRCo. if they would now provide it. They would not.

Time passed and eventually the Information Commissioner ruled that EWRCo. could not use the argument that the request was vexatious etc and they should respond again within a certain number of days without using that exemption.

We waited, were EWRCo., actually going to supply the information? 

Well, the latest news is that EWRCo. have appealed the Information Commissioner’s decision, so the saga continues and we will provide evidence to the tribunal next month.

Stay tuned for the next gripping instalment.

Categories
Business Case

Letter to Cllr Bridget Smith*

*substantially the same letter also sent to other local political signatories of the letter to Rishi Sunak attached to the end of this post.

Dear Ms Smith

I have recently read the letters you have signed to Grant Shapps and to Rishi Sunak requesting funding of the East West Railway in full. I expect they will be interpreted as on behalf of the district. I guess your reason for doing so was a belief that EWR will be a good thing.

Everyone collects facts that fit their beliefs (confirmation bias). Since we have opposite views on East West Rail I thought you might be interested in some of the reasons why I think it should not go ahead.

ORR UK Rail Finances

These one page Office of Road and Rail reports summarise the finances for the whole rail network every financial year. Financial year 19-20 was pre-pandemic and showed spending of £20.1 billion funded by £11.6 billion from passenger fares, £6.5 billion from the taxpayer and everything else (which includes freight access fees) £2.0 billion. The following year passenger fares collapsed and the taxpayer filled the gap with a £16.9 billion subsidy. 

It’s clear from this that the average railway loses money, however, the EWR is not an average railway. There are no large cities along its route which means lower than average passenger numbers. Compare Cambridge to London with Cambridge to Oxford: a similar distance but London will get much more traffic.

Competition with Road

The EWR is also quite a short railway. Trains go faster than cars and railways therefore become more competitive over longer distances. Network Rail’s analysis of the East West Railway demonstrates that it will struggle to compete with road even with no allowance for the first and last mile. I have summarized their numbers here. EWR will not facilitate longer rail journeys because of the interchange time penalties. For example, Norwich to Cardiff rail journeys will continue to go via London, passengers will not change at Cambridge and Oxford. I will not drive to Cambourne get the EWR to Cambridge and then get a London train. I will just drive to Royston.

Car ownership in 2020 in the East of England region stood at 1.36 cars per household and had risen over then previous 10 years. I suspect it is higher around Cambridge. Empirically, many of these cars sit in front of the house during the week and people work from home. Rail is also competing with Zoom.

Once the Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet A428 improvement scheme is completed using Network Rail and National Highway figures for journey times between Bedford and Cambridge, it will only be two minutes faster by EWR than peak road. This means that people that can afford to live within 1-2 minutes of Cambridge station will see a small benefit if they happen to want to go to Bedford station. Most real Cambridge to Bedford journeys will remain quicker by car even in peak times. EWRCo. cherry pick longer peak road journey times, but overall EWR has little or no advantage over road for the overwhelming majority of East West journey pairs.

Climate Change Impact

Diesel powered trains emit about 5 times less CO2 per passenger or freight kilometre than cars and lorries. Rail electrification would remove the last 20%. However, this is a 100-year railway and cars are rapidly decarbonising. I have an electric car and charge it from electricity that the supplier already assures me is from renewable sources. EWR Co. can find ways to make their railway zero carbon operationally as well.

The climate change comparison is more about CO2 from construction rather than operation. Carbon neutral electric vehicles are already being produced for example by Volkswagen.

The carbon emissions from the construction of the East West Railway will be substantial. Much of the estimated cost is from the embankments and concrete viaducts. Some local civil engineers estimate that the section between Cambourne North and Hauxton Junction would require 866,000 lorry movements to construct.

The railway makes more sense as set out in “Partnering for Prosperity”, if indeed there were four development corporations between Cambridge and Bedford, the new towns built on green field sites could be designed for easy access to the EWR station. But think about the CO2 emissions from the construction of these new towns and the loss of prime agricultural land.

Passenger Fares

The marginal cost of my Electric Vehicle is 7 pence per mile. This compares with peak rail fares on the busy Thameslink line of 55 pence per mile, plus £12.50 to park my car at Cambridge Station. Since I already have a car for other reasons, it would not make financial sense to use the EWR. EWR fares should be higher than Thameslink reflecting the higher costs and lower number of passengers.

Construction Cost

A recent article in the New Civil Engineer was based on an interview with the construction director at the rail construction company Ferrovial. Ferrovial have worked on HS2 and similar high-speed rail projects in Europe. They reported that average achieved construction cost across 15 high speed rail projects in Europe was £34million per km. HS2 was estimated to be £100 million per km, but they actually achieved £200 million per km. Yes, six times as much.

In today’s prices the estimated cost of the Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR is £87million per km.  One suspects the achieved cost will be higher. For reference, Google tells me UK motorways are around £30million per km in 2011 prices so maybe nearer £40million today.

Most UK railways were built long ago, a proper accounting of the business case for EWR must allow for the construction cost.

East West Rail and Levelling Up

The OxCam Arc was pushed aside by the levelling up White Paper in February. It is hard to argue that connecting Oxford to Cambridge achieves levelling up. A trickle-down effect e.g. through Astra Zeneca is a familiar type of argument for this along with Cambridge exceptionalism to foreign investors. These are the sort of arguments that have led to the need for levelling up in the first place. See, for example, Bob Kerslake’s report from the 2070 commission

The letter you signed to Rishi Sunak talks about the connection to the East Coast Mainline at St. Neots and how this will somehow level up the North East of England. Network Rail’s EWML Strategic Statement talks about this ECML connection on p.59

“It is unlikely that ECML fast-line services could call at any new station without unacceptable detriment to journey times or capacity.”

They don’t want to compromise the ECML advantage over road.

Value for Money

I care about value for money from public spending on EWR and so did the 2019 Lib Dem Manifesto.

The real issue is whether unqualified support for EWR will lead to the best use of public money at the moment. This morning, Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis was predicting that a 65% increase in home fuel bills will land around the time that the new Prime Minister arrives on Sept 5th – this would make the home fuel bill alone around one third of the state pension. The Bank of England are talking about more rate rises which will lead to higher mortgages rates. Fuel prices are rising. The NHS needs more money.

I can see a benefit for East West Rail to the following people

–       Commuters to the Biomedical Campus from Bedford and St. Neots – how many will there be that really come in from that direction?  We need to know.

–       People who can afford to live within a minute or two of Cambridge station 

–       Property developers/Investors from land value increase

On the other hand, all taxpayers are invited to pay for it. There are infrastructure projects all over the UK, so if we apportion the say £7.5 billion total cost over the current population between Bedford and Cambridge that might generously be 500,000 households. The cost per household would then be £15,000 for something which the vast majority of them would rarely if ever use.

If you sign more letters on behalf of the district demanding full funding of EWR you are not doing so in my name.

Your sincerely

Dr. William Harrold

Haslingfield and Cambridge Approaches

Categories
Business Case news

Secretary of State for Transport Wants to Cut EWR Tranches 2 and 3

Have your say in person 19th July 2pm-8pm Haslingfield Village Hall

Grant Shapps was interviewed on LBC on the 11th July 2022. Here is a transcript of the dialogue.

Iain Dale: “What would you cut from your transport budget?”

Grant Shapps: “I would take East West Rail and I would remove..”

Iain Dale: “Why haven’t you done it already?”

Grant Shapps: “Well, I haven’t had the opportunity”

Iain Dale: “You are the Transport Secretary you could have easily done it already, you could have gone to Rishi Sunak and said I know you want to cut spending here’s one way you could do that.”

Grant Shapps: “I have done that in other ways, but you have just asked what I would do as Prime Minister and I am telling you. I would cut East West Rail on what’s called two and three so there’s the second and third tranches of it and save 3 to 5 million pounds straight away.”

The interview is here and the part on EWR starts around 11 minutes into the recording.

Grant Shapps pulled out of the PM leadership race the following day, but his intention is now clear.  We are left with the question what is keeping the EWR Construction Stage two and three proposals afloat?

Yes, he meant billion not million. Yes, it must be tough on the staff at EWR Co. to hear their main sponsor saying this. It’s also tough on the thousands of residents blighted by this railway year after year with no end in sight and no meaningful changes or answers from EWR Co. in response to our many objections and questions. It’s also really tough on the taxpayers if they have to fund a project without a decent business case.

How long can this bizarre limbo continue? EWR Co. is full steam ahead on the ground and the transport secretary wants to cancel construction stages 2 and 3.

Meanwhile, after the EWR Co. Cambridge drop-in their spokesperson Hannah Staunton was interviewed on Look East on the 29th June. Here is a transcript of that one.

Look East: “Post pandemic, does the business case still stack up?”

Hannah Staunton: “Absolutely, so we know that, I think the latest research is saying that the current rail use levels are 90% of what they were before the pandemic and the need case for good, decent east west public transport in this area has always been incredibly strong. I don’t really see the case weakening for East West Rail if anything it’s sort of getting stronger.”

Did the business case for EWR always stack up before the pandemic? (If so, why was the Varsity Line cut in the 60s?) Why is she talking about a need case, when the question was about the business case? There are plenty of need cases for many things which don’t have a business case.

Pre-pandemic, UK railways needed an annual subsidy of £6.5 billion. The EWR has no big cities along the route and interchange times will make it less attractive for London commuters and long-distance routes. Even with today’s high rail fares, it will need a larger than average subsidy. Furthermore, with no level crossings allowed, the construction costs are ludicrously high[i], not to mention the huge environmental and human impact, the latter already being felt.

The lack of effective co-ordination with other local transport and housing schemes mean first and last mile penalties will reduce the number of passengers especially over shorter journeys and that is exactly where the most demand might be.

As for the business case getting better. The published outline business case for the EWR western section makes frequent reference to the foundation document of the OxCam ARC. “Partnering for Prosperity”. Michael Gove kicked that into the long grass in February by not mentioning it in the levelling up white paper and again last month at the levelling up select committee.

If the EWR needs a subsidy, who benefits? Investors, landowners and property developers selling land around new stations at hope value? Subsidising the fares of superstar biotech workers off to meetings in Oxford? Subsidising weekends away for people that can afford to live in central Cambridge? If it’s about commuting to the science parks around Cambridge there are much cheaper and more flexible local transport schemes for that. Just about anything is cheaper than EWR.

If the local property developers and other companies that signed the 22nd June letter to Grant Shapps demanding that the EWR be funded in full believe there is a good case for the railway, why don’t they fund it in full? Just £200 million from each signatory would do it and think of the return on investment.

At a time when people are choosing between eating and heating, the time for EWR Co. telling us is over, they need to show us the business case. Publish a well-substantiated positive, business case or cancel it and reduce this unnecessary and seemingly never-ending blight on the area.


[i] Ferrovial’s UK construction director was interviewed by the New Civil Engineer, for their 12th July 2022 edition. He stated that HS2 was estimated to cost £100 million per km and will actually cost £200 million per km, the average achieved cost of similar projects in Europe is £32 million per km. Ferrovial have been involved in both. It’s 50km from Bedford to Cambridge, the EWRCo. Jan 2020 Option report estimated a capital cost of £3.2 billion in 2010 money. Allowing for inflation since then of 36% that would be £4.3billion today leading to an estimate of £87million per km. Similar to the HS2 estimate.