Iwrote recently about the situation regarding the Oxford to Ipswich East West Rail link.We are hosting a webinar on this subject especially for those to the east of Cambridge. This webinar will be specifically about the effect that the new rail route will have on the Cambridge to Newmarket corridor area.Whilst we understand that it might seem a fairly benign development, and indeed more frequent train services are to be welcomed, the railway line will dramatically affect the corridor. The webinar will focus on the effects that the new rail route will have, how you can find out more and on the alternatives available.For those for who have not been following events, we will also give some history of the project, and try to demystify the way that it has evolved since inception back in 1997. There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions as well.The webinar will be on Tuesday 16th March at 7pm. You can use the link below, or visit the Cambridge Approaches website and register from there.
You are invited to a Zoom meeting. When: Mar 16, 2021 07:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time Register in advance for this meeting:
“However, we are seeking views through this consultation on whether we are right to focus on routes that approach Cambridge from the south. Of the five route options that are being taken forward for consultation, Routes B and E could alternatively approach Cambridge from the north if new information is provided that suggests this would be better than approaching Cambridge from the south.”
The 2019 EWR Co. consultation form asked for views on five route options all approaching Cambridge from the south. In addition, they asked “Do you agree that EWR Co are right to prioritise route options that approach Cambridge from the south rather than from the north?”
EWR Co. presented statistics on the answer to this leading question in January 2020. A slight majority disagreed (37% vs 35%). This is hardly a sign that EWR Co. have got it right.
We decided to probe a bit further into the consultation responses.
Northern Parishes not Consulted
We found that parishes to the north of Cambridge and the A428 were not even consulted about a northern approach. We know this because the 2020 Public Feedback Report lists the prescribed consultees and does not include these parishes – see Appendix 2a starting on p.8. Furthermore, no maps of the potential northern approach were presented in the consultation. This hardly facilitates EWR Co.’s request for new information about a northern approach to be provided by the consultees. Where is the new information going to come from if you don’t actually consult to the north? and shouldn’t EWR Co. have had a more detailed look at the northern approach themselves and presented the information to the public in an impartial way rather than relying on the public to do their own research? There was certainly no parity here compared with the consultation on the approaches to the south.
“In answer to your comment around the various requests you have received from constituents for a consultation to be held on whether East West Rail should approach from the south or the north, please let me clarify that this point has been to a full public consultation as part of our first non-statutory consultation held between 28 January and March 11 2019.” (Our emphasis).
Are EWR Co. attempting rewrite history here?
How well were People in the Option E Area Consulted?
There were no consultation meetings held in the Option E area in between Cambourne and Cambridge. Cambridge Approaches can attest that the level of awareness of the consultation among the general public in this area in the second half of 2020 was very low – our leaflet and webinars were the first that many people had heard of it. Shockingly, most of the few that were aware heard about it through survey requests from EWR Co’s agents, Ardent.
Most of the discussion during the consultation centred on routes through Bassingbourn rather than Cambourne.
Maybe it was different in Cambourne and further west, but judging from recent activity in Option E parishes north of Bedford, they were in the dark as well. For example, the village of Ravensden is bang in the line of Option E, but does not appear in the list of statutory consultees. Why is that?
Parish Council Responses
Perhaps the best proxy we have for public opinion on the route options at the time of the 2019 consultation comes from the parish council responses that were sent in.
EWR Co. listed 70 parish councils as prescribed consultees and a year later they published the responses from 41 of these councils here (starting on page 63). Figure 2 shows a map of which parish councils responded. Perhaps one of the more surprising things on the map is the lack of response from Great Shelford and surrounding parishes which EWR Co knew (because they said so on p. 20 of their consultation document) would be affected by any route option chosen. Despite the parish being listed as a prescribed consultee, the parish clerk to Great Shelford PC did not receive a letter notifying the parish council of the consultation.
In the consultation, the parish councils were faced with a choice between route options A to E. This choice involved deciding on at least three issues:
The route out of Bedford south (A, B, C) or north (D, E)
Bassingbourn (A, C, D) or Cambourne (B, E) station as the last stop before Cambridge
Cambridge approached from the south (A, B, C, D, E) or the north (-)
We have been through the response letters sent in by parish councils. We first looked at whether they supported a northern approach into Cambridge or whether they at least thought there should be a proper consultation about it. Then, we counted the parishes that responded but did not express a preference because they (very understandably) felt that the consultation did not provide enough information.
Finally, we counted the parishes preferring a route through Bassingbourn (routes A, C, D) and separately through Cambourne (routes B, E). In doing this, we noted that only one parish east of Cambourne (based on the dotted black line in Figure 2) supported a southern option with a station at Cambourne.
Figure 3 shows the results.
Hardly a resounding endorsement of option E with a southern approach to Cambridge.
The Elephant in the Room
Figure 3 shows that the largest proportion of parish council responses (54%) either expressed a preference for a northern approach to Cambridge or at least felt there should be a proper consultation about it. This was not even a consultation option, but it was the most common response.
That is the elephant in the room which EWR Co. ignored in choosing their preferred route option (and continue to ignore).
They just presented option E as the most popular choice and re-stated their reasons for not following the northern approach in a slightly longer form than they did at the time of the consultation.
Yes, parish councils were influenced by the campaign of CBRR. But that’s because CBRR were making, and continue to make, good arguments for their northern approach to Cambridge.
The next most common response from parishes (17%) was to say that the consultation did not provide enough information to express a preference.
So nearly three quarters of the responses did not support any of the southern options A to E. Shouldn’t that tell EWR Co. that they need to think hard about the next step in the consultation process?
In recent correspondence with EWR Co. we were informed that they intend to present more analysis of the northern approach to Cambridge in their next consultation as they consult on detailed route alignments in the option E area. It seems that they have not listened to the feedback from the parishes at all.
There was a meeting of the Cambridge Approaches oversight group of parish councils on the 11th February 2021. We discussed the concept of sending a joint letter to the rail minister and transport secretary with the same text as the petition. No one spoke against the idea. The letter was subsequently ratified by parish councils and the resulting letter was sent to Chris Heaton-Harris and Grant Shapps on the 23rd February 2021. Click download to see the letter and its signatories from Cambourne town council to Trumpington resident’s association.
If you agree that we need a fair consultation on an approach to Cambridge north please sign the petition.
EWR Co. say there was a full consultation on this in 2019 and remind us that legally they didn’t have to do a consultation at all. The message from EWR Co.analysis of the consultation results is that option E is popular.
Was the 2019 consultation a fair consultation on a northern approach to Cambridge? Well …
parishes north of the A428 were not consulted
the northern approach was presented in the context of (flawed) reasons why it should not be adopted
very few people were aware of the consultation in the option E area and highly affected parishes such as The Shelfords were not consulted.
there were no consultation meetings in the option E area between Cambourne and Gt. Shelford
results on the approach to Cambridge were mixed up with the Cambourne vs Bassingbourn station issue.
We intend to come back to the consultation results and the popularity of Option E in the 2019 consultation in a future post.
The petition calling for a fair consultation has now passed 7000 signatures which is the same as the total number of people that responded to the EWR Co. 2019 consultation with any view.
As the CBRR petition passes 6400, pressure is increasing on EWR Co. to openly review the northern approach to Cambridge. They do seem to be uniting opinion in many parts of South Cambridgeshire that this north south consultation needs to happen. Here is a survey of some recent news on this.
Anthony Browne MP
Anthony Brown MP published this letter to residents on Friday 5th February 2021. Note in particular this paragraph.
“I have heard the arguments in favour of the northern approach option and find them persuasive. I certainly think that it warrants full consideration, and that the public should have a say on this option. I cannot say whether a northern or southern approach will be best for EWR. That is a decision that must be made by EWR depending on the evidence, detailed scoping work and outcome of public consultations. My aim is to ensure that both the northern and southern options are properly considered and consulted on. This will not only ensure that the best decision can be made, but also that the public can have confidence in the process. “
CA are currently working with Anthony Browne’s office on this common objective.
BCN Wildlife Trust
On the 9th February 2021, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (BCN WT) re-affirmed its support for a northern approach to Cambridge here. They are still asking why a Strategic Environmental Assessment has never been performed (beyond the trite and bizarre reason that EWR Co. do not consider themselves under a legal obligation to do so because they have no programme or plan).
The result of this omission is that while the BCN WT, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England and even Natural England are all indicated in their consultation responses that a northern route would be better for the environment, EWR Co. are asserting with little or no evidence that Option E is better.
Is this a good way to spend £6.5billion of taxpayers money? Cambridge deserves to be treated better than this.
We are rather hoping that when the petition is circulated to the 34,000 BCN WT members, then some more people will become aware of the issue and sign it.
Cambourne Town Council
At a recent meeting of some northern parishes in Anthony Browne’s constituency, the chairman, Joe O’Dwyer, affirmed his support for an EWR route into Cambridge North. He also reported that the new Programme Delivery Director at EWR Co. had said “there were no technical or cost reasons not to approach Cambridge from the north”. This is a very sensible statement.
But it is rather in contrast to the now rather discredited rebuttal of the CBRR route in §16 of EWR Co.s Route Option Report. This is the report that talks about trains having to turn around in Cambridge and additional costs. Both claims have been dismissed on this blog and elsewhere more than once and many times to EWR Co. for a long time, but they don’t change the record.
Trouble in Bedford
The good people of Bedford have successfully petitioned their council to debate the route of EWR. Like us they have realised the possibility of freight trains rumbling through central Bedford at night and are not happy at the prospect. Here is a report on the debate held there earlier in the week. They have also noticed that while Option E was the most expensive at the time of the 2019 consultation, it became the second cheapest in the 2020 Route Option Report. Maybe they have been reading this post.
You may have noticed the press coverage on 23rd January 2021 about the East West MainLine (“EWML”) based on this press release from the Department for Transport (DfT). It’s about funding to complete the renovation of the old line from Bicester to Bletchley in the Western Section of the East West MainLine. You can hear Grant Shapps’ short You Tube video about it here. It clearly does not relate to the substantially new Central Section between Bedford and Cambridge.
The funding commitment for Bicester to Bletchley was announcedin the Chancellor’s Autumn 2020 Spending Review (see page 38). The new information on the 23rd January 2021 is just the actual amount to be spent.
So why is the DfT recycling old news?
The announcement comes at the end this week’s Spotlight East West Main Line 2021 conference which also was set up to promote EWML. The presentations are still available online. So, the DfT press release is clearly part of the choreography.
There were conference presentations on Monday from England’s Economic Heartland and Transport East. When the conference moderator asked them what they saw as the main hurdle for the EWML, they both replied that it was securing funding from HM Treasury. In fact, it emerged that this was one of the main reasons for the conference’s promotion of the EWML scheme this week.
Later in the week, the Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris very honestly explained some of the hurdles that he faced in getting more funding from HM Treasury. He said that “49% of DfT funding went toward 2% of the journeys – and that’s rail”. He also said that currently “the Treasury has many calls on its shallow pockets”.
Readers of this blog will know that we are also concerned that the taxpayer really gets value for money from the EWML. This is not unconditional opposition to the scheme, but just a demand that EWR Co. really demonstrates the business case for it and shows that they have optimised the route around the constraints produced by that business case. For example, if it supports freight, then we need to consider the impact on communities, if it’s about commuting to the nearest city, make sure this is maximized, if it’s about the fastest end-to-end transit, draw a straight line from Oxford to Cambridge.
If you divide the total cost of the Central Section by the population between Bedford and Cambridge in 2019 prices it comes out at around £9,000 per household. We are all big stakeholders in this. So, how is the business case looking for the Central Section?
It emerged in the conference that the EWR Consortium do not have a published business case for the EWML. Perhaps EWR Co. / DfT have one?
CA have to report that we have not seen any of the following from EWR Co.:
a housing plan associated with the route
an environmental impact assessment across route options
a plan to co-ordinate with other transport schemes around Cambridge
credible explanations of Benefit to Cost Ratio calculations across options
proper analysis of a Northern Approach to Cambridge
honest impact assessment of the forecast long term 30% drop in passenger numbers post-Covid announced at the conference.
The Rail Freight Group did present interesting information at the conference to show how the freight traffic demand has already bounced back since the start of the pandemic. See Figure 1.
Of course, while this is good news for the freight industry, those poor people to trying to make a passenger rail business case are not in such a strong position.
One thing we did think was settled was that the Central Section would be freight capable. This was because of the “substantive answer” to an earlier question from CA to EWR Co.. However, it became clear that Maggie Simpson from the Rail Freight Group speaking at this week’s conference was working under that assumption that the Central Section would not support freight. Also Kerry Allen, a planner from Suffolk County Council said that freight plans were at an early stage.
Chris Heaton-Harris then “clarified” the situation by saying that it was “up for grabs” whether the Central Section would be freight capable.
As regards passenger usage, Maria Cliff, EWR Co. Head of Operations explained that they had developed “personas” for the types of rail passenger that they would serve.
Really good to see that EWR Co. are starting to get to grips with who will actuallyuse the railway, this should have been published years ago. Notice the lack of the “Rapid Roy” persona who really needs a regular 90-minute transit from Oxford to Cambridge or indeed “Freight Operator Freddie”. It does make sense that the everyday users are commuters and schoolchildren, going to their nearest city. We strongly agree about school children so many 6thformers from around the county go to school in Cambridge.We believe that with the addition of a Northstowe station, the northern approach to Cambridge is likely to serve commuters better than Option E as clearly explained by CBRR’s Sebastian Kindersley here.
There are definitely benefits from building the Central Section but, given the amounts of money involved and the uncertainties around the business case, is EWR Co.’s plan imminently to launch a consultation on detailed route alignments in the option E area really sensible? If you are not sure please signthis petition.
The new East-West Rail Link between Oxford and Ipswich is being planned to pass through Cambridge.
Whilst the extra trains, about 6 per hour, will offer better choice for passengers, the 20 or so freight trains are less welcome.
These freight trains originate at the port of Felixstowe which is expanding steadily. They currently follow two routes, either via Ely and Peterborough to the Midlands and north or via Chelmsford and north London to the West and South of England. Both routes are congested and the coming East-West rail link will offer a convenient third option.
The proposed route approaches Cambridge from the south and leaves via the single track line towards Newmarket via the sharp curve at Coldham’s common junction.
It is expected that the track will be dualled as far as Fulbourn, through Cherry Hinton so that freight trains can wait for a suitable gap to pass through the congested Cambridge Central station.
The East West Rail link is being built to a standard suitable for freight trains, so we can expect it to be fully used. Indeed all official forecasts show this to be the case.
There has been little sign that the designers and builders of the new railway have considered the alternative route to the north of Cambridge.
This northern approach could offer less disruption from these half-mile long, diesel hauled trains. Even more appropriate would be a full bypass line for freight trains avoiding the need for any to pass through the city.
Steve Edmondson, Cambridge Approaches Action Group, Cantelupe Road, Haslingfield.
In this post we continue the comparison between a southern Option E route and the route proposed by CBRR. In our earlier post we compared route length (as recapped in Figure 1) and capital cost, in this post we focus more on residential and environmental impact.
As before, in considering a train transiting the Cambridge area from Cambourne to Chippenham junction near Newmarket on the newly rebranded East West Main Line, the route from point A to point B represents a fair comparison between the CBRR and Option E for through routes.
Road Crossings and Impact on Residential Areas
One of EWR Co.’s Environmental Principles is as follows: “Respecting our Neighbours: effectively managing and controlling noise vibration and pollution to avoid affecting your health or quality of life.”
Rather than mitigate after building the railway, it has to be better to avoid the problem in the first place. Let’s have a look at how the CBRR route might help EWR Co. get closer to their objective in that way.
As before, we consider two routes from Cambourne North (A) to Coldham’s Common (B) as shown in Figure 2.
For comparison purposes, the EWR Option E scenario shown in Figure 2 has been taken as a route from the north of Cambourne, crossing the A428 to join the Option E area between Toft and Comberton and then to the north of Harlton, south of Haslingfield and Harston to then run parallel to the existing King’s Cross line into Cambridge. All existing bridges running parallel to the King’s Cross line and in Cambridge are assumed to require widening as it’s unlikely that there is sufficient capacity as these tracks are already extremely busy. The widening works may be carried out as part of the EWR Co. project or at a later stage by Network Rail: either way the taxpayer will fund the work.
*** Once again, we have to say that this example Southern Option E route shown in Figure 2 in red is not endorsed by CA ***
However, there are many publicly reported survey locations and evidence from local councillors that EWR Co. are looking at it. It is a combination of our previous alternatives 7and 4.
Counting the number of road crossings on new and existing track helps to compare construction costs of two otherwise similar routes. But given the nationally mandated policy of no new level crossings and EWR Co.’s policy of case by case decisions on re-instating access, it is also an indication of the level of disruption that will be caused by the new railway. If access is restored, we would have to live with the new earthworks and bridges: if it is not restored we would have to live with a divided community.
The results are shown in Table 1 and include existing parts of the track which may need to be widened, either at the time of construction or afterwards and either paid for as part of the EWR Co. project or by Network rail, but either way fundamentally by the taxpayer. Since the existing twin tracks south of Cambridge are currently much busier than the twin tracks north of Cambridge, work to improve tracks to the south is much more likely to be required.
Table 1 shows that the number of both A and B roads crossed is significantly lower for the CBRR route than for the southern Option E route. Because of the lack of track capacity to the south of Cambridge as mentioned above, road bridges over Long Road, Hills Road, Mill Road and Coldham’s Lane in Cambridge may well need to be modified. Given that most of these roads are already congested, such works would be exceptionally disruptive, far more so than bridges further out of Cambridge. Even if these four bridges did not require modifications, the number of Option E road crossings affected would still be greater than the CBRR route.
Ignoring those towns and villages that will have a station in the two scenarios (Cambourne, Northstowe, Cambridge North and Cambridge South), Table 2 shows the number of such settlements closely passed by the railway (within 500m). Again, the CBRR route wins out by a big margin. For the many thousands of people living in those villages, this not a small point as local politicians and EWR Co. should now be fully aware.
Southern Option E
Villages within 500m of railway
Caldecote, Toft, Comberton, Little Eversden, Harlton, Haslingfield, Harston, Hauxton, Little Shelford, Great Shelford
Oakington*, Milton, Caldecote**, Dry Drayton
Table 2 Number of Villages within 500m of EWR CS Cambourne North (A) to Cambridge
*Oakington would benefit from the CBRR Northstowe Station
** Caldecote is less affected by CBRR on the far side of the A428 than our southern Option E example.
Along similar lines, we looked at the built-up areas in Cambridge through which the railway runs. See table 3 below – again much less impact for CBRR.
Length of Railway through built up areas in Cambridge (km)
Table 3 Assessment of the Impact on Residential Cambridge
Lastly, we counted the number of properties within 200m of each railway option from A to B and the results are shown in Table 4 below. These figures are a comparative measure in noise and air pollution between the southern and northern options.
No. of properties within 200m of railway (approx.)
Table 4 Number of Properties Impacted Cambourne North (A) to Coldham’s Common (B)
Once again, the CBRR route has far less residential impact both in Cambridge and in the villages. Assuming 2.5 people per property around 6310 more people will be disturbed by a southern route than the CBRR one.
A northern approach also provides opportunities for freight to bypass Cambridge entirely in the future.
As we remarked above, EWR Co. want to minimise the environmental impact of their new railway, but they seem to be thinking about mitigating the effect of the railway after construction rather than minimising the damage in the first place. Of course, this EWR Co. approach means they can decide where they want to put the railway unconstrained by environmental considerations and they can then make a show of patching it up afterwards.
EWR Co. have not performed an area wide Strategic Environmental Assessment, we assume for cost reasons. This means that they have to dance around the SEA Directive 2001/42/EC Articles 2 and 3, and it’s adoption in the UK and to be very careful about the terms plan and programme to which the SEA directive applies. Clearly, given that they maintain that they don’t need to perform an SEA, they can’t be doing a plan or programme. Someone needs to tell the EWR Co. HR department not to be recruiting for the Programme Sponsor roles as they don’t have a programme!
However, EWR Co. have made a statement about the relative environmental impact of CBRR vs Option E in §16 of their Option Report as follows:
$§16.32-33 say that they have done an assessment of the CBRR route and found some issues – as usual very little detail or concrete evidence has been provided. §16.34 is the real problem though. Without a quantitative comparison of these CBRR issues with Option E how can they possibly conclude that more effort will be required to mitigate these effects than for Option E?
Wildlife Trust Assessment
Fortunately, the Wildlife Trust have performed a detailed comparison of Option E and the CBRR route and have kindly shared the details of their very thorough analysis with Cambridge Approaches. In this post we just present a summary of their findings between Cambourne and Cambridge.
Option E is a route area whose width varies from a few hundred metres to over 4km. The CBRR route is closer to a route alignment, but allowance has been made for that by widening the corridor around the CBRR route to include a 1km buffer on either side. The Wildlife Trust have listed the sites affected along Option E and the CBRR route. If there is interest, we can seek permission from the Wildlife Trust to share their maps.
We have counted the number of sites between Cambourne and Cambridge and the results are set out in Table 4 as follows:
CBRR + 2km Buffer
Scheduled Ancient Monument
Table 4 Comparison of Environmental Sites Impacted CBRR vs Option E: Cambourne to Cambridge.
The CBRR route has considerably less impact between Cambourne and Cambridge than Option E. It seems that §16.34 of the option report may be wrong (to say the least).
This letter from the Wildlife Trust presents their interpretation as follows:
“all of the route options into Cambridge South are far worse than the route option into Cambridge North, which has been excluded from the consultation”.
The question is who knows more about the local environment – the Wildlife Trust or an internal study in EWR Co. that does not refer to evidence?
Between Cambourne and Cambridge we have shown evidence that the CBRR proposal is hugely less damaging to residents both in Cambridge and in the approaches to Cambridge. The same is true of the impact on wildlife sites and ancient monuments as shown by the Wildlife Trust Study.
We have previously demonstrated that the route from the new Cambourne North station to Coldham’s common is shorter (and CBRR have discussed even shorter options with us that preserve the benefits). There are serious unanswered questions about the claimed cost benefits of the Option E route over CBRR to which we can now add the question of additional road crossings.
EWR Co. say they are back-checking the northern route to Cambridge in parallel with a detailed consultation of route alignments in the option E area. Here in CA we do not think this makes sense. If this post castes doubt in your mind that about the right approach to Cambridge and you would like to see a more open consultation including northern approaches, consider signing this petition.
Questions for EWR Co.
Do you agree that avoiding environmental problems in the first place is better than mitigating them afterwards? If so, please can you add this to your environmental principles?
Do you agree that minimising the number of road crossings and the residential areas affected is desirable?
After looking at our analysis and the maps do you agree that the CBRR route is better than Option E in terms of road crossings?
Do you agree that a Cambourne North station (outside the option E area) makes the Northern Approach more attractive e.g. since it becomes unnecessary to cross the A428 expressway east of Cambourne?
Please can you explain your conclusion in §16.34 of the Option report? You have not published a quantitative comparison of the environmental impact of Option E vs CBRR, so the conclusion in §16.34 does not make logical sense. If you do have such a comparison, please can you share it with us?
Do you have evidence to contradict the assessment of the Wildlife Trust that the northern route into Cambridge from Cambourne is far better from a Wildlife and Ancient monument site perspective?
We have now provided new evidence on all 5 of your key assessment criteria that favour the CBRR route over option E. Will you now commit to an open consultation on routes into Cambridge North and South?
Sebastian Kindersley of CBRR makes compelling arguments for a northern approach to Cambridge for the Central Section of the East West Railway.
Sadly, EWR Co. are not currently planning any consultation on approaches to Cambridge north and south. They never have.
However, Anthony Browne reported on Friday’s Shelford meeting that EWR Co. are planning a one year back-check of a northern approach, presumably in parallel with a further consultation about Option E detailed route alignments.
In response to questioning on Friday Mr Browne agreed that this position from EWR Co. does not make sense. He’s right, it’s crazy.
This is an audio recording of the exchange between Anthony Browne, Sebastian Kindersley and a resident of Gt Shelford on the subject of the back-check of the northern approach. We understand that Gt Shelford Parish Council will upload the full recording of the meeting in due course.
Please listen to the presentation and the audio recording and if you also want an open consultation on the right approach to Cambridge do sign the CBRR petition (and get your friends and family to do so as well) – all UK taxpayers will be funding this project after all and we need a say.
In this post we discuss just two of the parameters for a comparison: route length and capital cost. We conclude that the CBRR route is shorter and arguably has a lower capital cost than Option E. We end with some more questions for EWR Co.
This is actually good news. There is potentially a better option available for Cambridge, we just need EWR Co. to look at it again.
The references below set out some of the discussion so far on this topic.
The exact route alignment in the Option E area is still fluid at the moment and in order to make a comparison with the CBRR route, we need to make some assumptions:
There is a station to the north of Cambourne near the junction with the A428, this has widespread support in the area and should facilitate the development of Cambourne, EWR Co. say they are looking at this.
The option E route tries to maximise re-use of existing track and hence joins the Cambridge (or King’s Cross) line just south of Harston.
The EWR Eastern Section connects to Cambridge via the single-track line to Newmarket at Coldhams Common
The routes are shown diagrammatically in figure 1
Drawing out both these routes on a detailed map has allowed us to measure the distances shown in Figure 1.
CBRR Route is Shorter than Option E
We can see from the total distances in Figure 2 that the CBRR route is shorter than option E overall by 2.3km. This means that the transit time through Cambridge from west to east (or vice versa will likely be less than for option E.
As pointed out in our earlier post about unexplained cost increases, route B had a much lower capital cost than route E at the time of the consultation, but the situation changed in the option report without much explanation. EWR Co. have so far declined to answer our questions about this huge change.
Route B approaches Bedford from the north while Route E goes through a Bedford South station (Wixams). Their approach to Cambridge is the same. It seems sometime between the consultation and the option E decision, EWR Co. decided that approaching Bedford from the north was cheaper than from the south. We cannot accept this change without further explanation.
EWR Co. claim that CBRR is £0.6Bn more expensive than option B in 2019 prices.
CBRR point out that if you take the cost ratios in the 2019 Technical Report we see that Route E’s capex is 27% (2.8/2.2) higher than Route B. Applying this 27% increase to the £3.9Bn given for option B would lead to an option E capex of £5.0Bn. See Table 1 for the numbers.
It seems that option E is more expensive than CBRR using EWR Co.’s own figures given at the time of the consultation. As pointed out before, the mystery is why the ratio of Option B and E capex costs changed so much in the option report.
EWR Co. go on the say that comparing CBRR with option B is similar to comparing it with option E (option Report §16.30) There is a £200m capex difference even with their own figures in the Option Report and £600m capex difference in the Technical Report. Not small differences.
As previously noted, Route B and Route E are different at the Bedford end of the link. To compare apples with apples we really need to see what is happening between Cambourne and Cambridge. As EWRCo. have indicated, we can do this by comparing CBRR with option B, since they are the same at the Bedford end.
Cambourne to Cambridge Costs
EWR Co.’s Option Report states in $16.29 that the CBRR route will cost £600M more than some unspecified option B route in 2019 prices
Where could this £600M come from?
Figure 2 indicates that there is 3.3km of additional new track with the CBRR route compared with our assumed Option B/E route.
If we take the approximately 50km route from Bedford to Cambridge and divide that into the £3.4Bn estimated capital cost for option B we find a cost of £ 68 Million /km in 2010 prices – this of course includes stations, road and river crossings etc. It’s surprising that 3.3km of track could cost anything like £600M. Even £68M/km x 3.3km = £224.4M. That’s around £259.5M in 2019 prices.
These prices are all very high. In order to reduce noise CBRR proposed that the line be put in a sunken concrete trench. Have EWR Co. made allowance for that in their costings? If so it needs to be there for option E as well. We need an apples for apples comparison.
Part of this may be due to EWR Co. using a Cambourne South station for Option B/E rather than the Cambourne North one assumed here. However, as stated earlier, there is now a consensus that Cambourne North Station is the way to go. If so this analysis needs to be updated by EWR Co.
European Commission Report is the Taxpayer getting Value for Money?
While the Capex/km figures from EWR Co. do seem to be consistent with the much criticised HS2 costings, it is interesting to compare then with a survey of build costs around Europe published by the European Commission in 2017. In Figure 4 of this report we find that their model derived from actual builds gives a construction cost of 7.2MEuros/km for conventional track. Why are the costs here around 10 times as much? Is the taxpayer getting value for money?
The Imaginary Rowing Lake
In section §16.30 of their Option Report EWR Co. make allowance for the railway crossing a new rowing lake north of Cambridge.
However, this rowing lake plan was abandoned and is therefore not an obstacle for the EWR link north of Cambridge. As a matter of fact, given that the news article is dated from the middle of 2018 and the EWR Co. option report is dated January 2020, this allowance was already out of date at the time that the option report was published.
The CBRR route has an additional station at Northstowe. This will form part of the additional cost for the CBRR route. We know that the four tracked Cambridge South Station was estimated by Network Rail to cost £200m, but looking at this news article it seems reasonable to assume that a much simpler station at Northstowe should not cost more than £100m. A simple station at Harston was recently estimated to cost £20m, maybe that is a more appropriate figure.
Furthermore, as EWR Co. have said, they have not included any land value increase benefits around stations, (Option Report §15.16) which means that much of the potential benefit of Northstowe station is not included in the assessment. Such benefits can be very significant. The NIC report p.68 talks about a Milton Keynes case study with a tax of £18,500 per home for a new development. That would be £185M for the 10,000 homes mentioned in §16 of the Option Report. According to the same NIC report land values in the Cambridge area are twice what they are in Milton Keynes so this £185M is an under-estimate.
The response to a recent FOI request to EWR Co. about land value increases, stated that they cannot share such information as it is commercially confidential. How can the public assess the value of various routes if even estimates of such information are kept confidential? In particular, as CBRR have pointed out and EWR Co. agree the land value increases for a northern approach to Cambridge will be higher than for the South. The difference is in the amount.
Are Upgrades to Existing Track Included?
Although they all only have two tracks at the moment, due to the high demand for commuter trains to London, the tracks south of Cambridge are much busier than those similar ones to the north. This is indicated in Figure 1 by the thicker lines on tracks south of Cambridge.
Looking at trainline.com for the weekday busy hour timetable from Cambridge to King’s Cross we find 6 trains per hour (tph). We understand from EWR Co. that they want to start with a 4 tph service into Cambridge and to increase it to 6 tph if there is demand. As we have seen there is also a need to run freight trains, but we do not expect these to run during the passenger busy hour and so perhaps they will not affect capacity calculations.
It seems that the traffic into Cambridge from the south with the addition of the EWR link will likely double in terms of trains per hour. This will trigger the need to move from two tracks to four tracks certainly on the line from Gt. Shelford into Cambridge (according to EWR Co.) where there is also the traffic to Liverpool Street and maybe from Harston to Great Shelford as well. There may also be a need to replace level crossings e.g. in Great Shelford with some kind of road bridge.
The proposed upgrades around the Cambridge South station do not cover 4 tracking of much of the line.
So, the cost impact of the option B/E solution should include these improvements to the existing lines. Even if they are paid for by Network Rail rather than EWR Co. both are ultimately funded by the same taxpayers.
The CBRR route will be shorter than Option E.
The CBRR route may well have a lower capex than Option E, especially when the full impact is considered.
The EWR Co. assessment of the CBRR route has some mistakes and several unanswered questions.
Question for EWR Co.
Please can you acknowledge that a northern approach to Cambridge should lead to a shorter route to Cambridge from Cambourne North than a southern route?
Do the costings for option E include any allowance for capacity upgrades to existing track required due to the additional EWR link traffic? If not why not?
Do you agree that lines into the north of Cambridge are less busy than those into the south?
Why did option B capex become higher than option E in the Option Report when this was far from the case in the technical report?
What allowance was made for the rowing lake in the capital cost estimate for the CBRR route given in §16.30? Will you re-issue the comparison with this corrected?
Please can you explain where the additional £600M for CBRR over Option B comes from?
What assumption are you making for the cost of new track for capex/km?