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.


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

New Date and Venue for Haslingfield Drop In Event

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”

It is of course the right decision.

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.


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

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.


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.

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

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.


Briefing Note for EWR Drop In – Rescheduled for 12 October 2022

Sunset on Haslingfield? – How long will this Beautiful Countryside Remain?

East West Rail Co. are holding a drop-in session from 2pm to 8pm at Haslingfield Methodist Church on Wednesday 12th October 2022.

The South Cambridgeshire countryside is a beautiful area full of nature reserves, handsomely tended farms, pretty woodland and the occasional vineyard, it’s been that way for centuries. Unfortunately, that’s where the nice part of the story ends. The government have trusted the routing of this new railway line to EWRCo. who have decided on an approach that can only have been decided on cost as it completely ignores what is right for communities and the environment. Their plan is to put a railway on top of a ten-metre high embankment (higher than a house) right across our countryside, blighting it for centuries to come. The impact on our lives and the value of our homes of this “Great Wall” will be devastating both long term and during the years of construction.


  1. On 30th May 2022, new EWR Co. CEO Beth West said to campaigners in Bedford that they are submitting a revised business case to the Department for Transport (DfT) at the end of June. DfT/Treasury decision will take months after that.
  • A recent Network Rail report compared EWR and peak road transit times. They found a 12-minute advantage for EWR from Cambridge Station to Bedford Midland Station. National Highways say peak road will reduce by 10 minutes when the planned A428 improvements are implemented. EWR will only provide benefits for a small proportion of trips between Cambridge and Bedford.
  • The local housing and transport plans have taken no account of the proposed EWR Bed-Cam route. The OxCam Arc “spatial framework” to integrate these will not now be produced. Thus, high first / last mile transit times for the railway will remain a problem. Michael Gove spoke about the Arc at the Levelling Up Select committee recently and distanced himself from ribbon development between Cambridge and Oxford. The EWR was an integral part of the OxCam Arc – which, it seems, is no more.
  • UK railways lose money on average, particularly since the pandemic. EWR has no large cities along its route, so we can expect lower than average passenger traffic, especially considering competition with road. Nationally, freight revenues are small compared to passenger fares.
  • 70 local parish councils, district councillors, county councillors and the combined authority Mayor signed a letter to DfT forwarded by Anthony Browne MP asking for the business case to be published or the project cancelled. The rail minster responded without addressing the question at all.
  • Although DfT have a target to make railways net zero. EWR Co. have no definition of what that means. Does it include the estimated 866,000 lorry movements required to construct the Great Wall of S. Cambs? Or the thousands of additional houses?
  • Three years ago, in the January 2019 consultation, the target date for the EWR planning application was the end of 2021. Recent communication with EWR indicates that this date has slipped at least to the end 2024. According to their annual report to April 2021, EWR Co. have 150 staff with a median salary of £90,000, but the project has not progressed towards the planning application for the last 3 years.

Some Questions you might Consider asking EWR Co. at their drop in Event

  1. Are the delays in producing the 2021 consultation response really because EWR Co. are waiting for a green light to proceed on the business case? (the high number of responses being more of a cover).
  2. Do EWR Co. agree that all statements they make should be backed up by rigorous evidence? (If so why do they make so many anecdotal points).
  3. Is the northern approach to Cambridge still actively being considered?
  4. How have EWRCo. assessed the number of people that would use this railway and why don’t they publish all the numbers?
  5. Given the 3x cost increase in 2020, what cost reduction measures have been considered and how do they affect the proposed route/solution?
  6. Why have EWR Co. made no progress towards the planning application in the last three years?
  7. We are aware of the options, but how will EWR Co. reduce the height of the Great Wall? 
  8. Do EWR Co. have an open mind on whether the project should go ahead, or do they start from the answer that it should. Are they not conflicted because their jobs depend on it?
  9. How is this project consistent with the Government’s levelling up policy? 
  10. Why would peak ticket prices be any cheaper than 55p/mile seen on Thameslink and, accounting for £12.50/day parking, at Cambridge station how will this compete with the marginal cost of using a car? (Most families in the area need a car anyway and the marginal cost of an electric car is around 7p/mile).

There is a complete lack of transparency on the part of EWRCo. They have provided no detail on how they reached their decision for the approach into Cambridge. They have not responded to the public consultation and they have not presented a business case to justify spending tax payer’s money. Please stand firm against it and make your feelings heard. 

Business Case

Will the EWR Compete with Road?

Whether enough people will use the EWR to justify the business case depends crucially on how it competes with road. In my last post I presented some empirical data on the Bedford to Cambridge journey pair. This post is a copy of a recent letter to the Department for Transport which considers more journey pairs between Cambridge and Oxford.

The Rail Minister has held meetings with various local MPs recently and tells them that a review of the business case for the railway is currently in progress with a view to publishing a decision about whether to proceed in June. So I thought it was a good time to share this analysis of the recent Network Rail Report with the DfT’s EWR Team.

The analysis brings together some issues we have been raising with EWR Co. for a long time now – in particular the lack of integration with local plans and local transport schemes. These were issues we presented to the previous Rail Minister Chris Heaton Harris in Feb 2021. They are fundamental to the business case – or should be.

Here is the letter.

To: The East West Rail Team at the Department for Transport.


Dear EWR Team,

I understand from my MP’s office (Anthony Browne, South Cambridgeshire) that you are currently working on a recommendation to the rail minister and others about whether the central section of the EWR should go ahead. In the spirit of helping you reach the right answer and having spent the last couple of years off and on looking at this issue from a local perspective, I want to share some of the challenges that I see any case for the railway needs to address. Apologies if some of this material is already familiar to you.

  1. On average, railways in the UK are loss making[i]. The EWR does not have any major cities along its route and the transport gravity model[ii] therefore predicts that traffic demand will be much lower than say between Cambridge and London. Can you really show that the EWR will not require a subsidy? Economists tell us subsidies destroy jobs by reducing market efficiency.
  2. The generalised journey time for origin/destination pairs along the line have recently been published by Network Rail[iii]. They conclude that journeys beyond Oxford and Cambridge are not competitive with road due the interchange times at Oxford and Cambridge. For journey pairs between Oxford and Cambridge the table below shows the network rail data in minutes. I have repeated the data allowing for the peak 10-minute improvement expected from the Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet A428 work[iv] and repeated them again for illustration assuming a 30-minute allowance for first and last mile on the EWR time.
Network RailEWR GJTRoad (Peak)EWR Benefit
add BC to CGEWR GJTRoad (Peak)Benefit
add 30mins 1st& lastmileEWR GJTRoad (Peak)Benefit

The Oxford to Bedford benefit remains positive, but National Highways are actively looking at further improvements to the road network between Oxford and Cambridge. Note also that the expensive section between Bedford and Cambridge only has a benefit of 2 minutes in the second section of the table. I recently verified the peak road figure by driving the route at peak time[v].

  1. The time benefit over road can also be viewed as a pair of circles around the origin and destination stations. The question is, will there be enough people living and working inside those circles to justify the railway? With the demise of the Spatial Framework for the OxCam Arc and the million new houses, it now becomes much harder to show that there will be enough people in these rather small circles. Existing housing and local transport patterns by car do not currently support the proposed EWR stations. For example, Cambridge station is slow to get to and the car park (£12.50/day) filled up before 9am pre-Covid. Cambridge south is a destination only station with no car park, attempts to push through a park and ride solution for Cambridge South at Foxton and Hauxton have so far foundered, the view being that the Biomedical Campus needs to provide its own parking rather than dump the problem on neighbouring villages. In any event, park and ride is not a quick solution for the first or last mile for the EWR. There are only 12,000 people in Cambourne the EWR is an expensive way to improve their commute into Cambridge – £417K each!
  2. Looking at ORR’s UK Rail Finances, it seems very unlikely that freight will produce enough revenue to move the needle on the business case for this railway.
  3. Aside from making the new railway very intrusive on the landscape, the ORR no new level crossings policy makes the railway expensive to build and a lot of CO2 will be emitted during its construction. For example, between Cambourne and Hauxton junction we estimate that 866,000 lorry movements would be required to construct the engineering works as specified in the 2021 consultation.
  4. If the capital cost of the railway is to be offset using levies from the construction of new housing, where will these houses be? There is nothing significant in the local plans around Cambridge, Cambridge south or Bedford Midland Road. There are 1950 houses in the local plan around Cambourne that would move if the railway were constructed, but they would also be built if the Cambourne to Cambridge busway were constructed instead – or some similar (cheaper) local transport scheme. If you had a 5% levy on houses selling for an average of £250K and you need to raise £5Billion, then 400,000 houses would be required. That’s a city the size of Leeds.
  5. If these houses are to be constructed in addition to the local plan, they are likely to be on green field sites, such as around the proposed new EWR station at Tempsford. The carbon budget for the railway should include the construction of these houses which are intended to trigger migration into the area and relieve pressure on London rather than solve existing local shortages[vi].
  6. Over the next 10 years, cars will become increasingly electric, powered from a green electricity grid. They will also become autonomous, initially on highways. These trends will continue to erode the benefits of rail over road for passengers.
  7. Given that the public transport along the route of the EWR is not well developed, passengers of the EWR will often have their own cars. They will therefore naturally compare the marginal cost of using their electric car (around 6 pence per mile), with the cost of the railway – looking at Thameslink peak ticket prices this is around 55 pence per mile. Even if the EWR were competitive on travel time then it would not be cost competitive for many.

It’s quite easy to make a case for the railway at a political debating point level. However, the following statements are not justifications

  1. The government strongly supports it.
  2. Railways are green compared with road
  3. It will create jobs
  4. We want it.
  5. We have been talking about it since 1995
  6. We will sponsor apprentices

As they said at my business school. “Don’t tell me, show me.”  If this project is to continue the thousands of us currently living under the blight of these plans would really appreciate being shown, in quantitative terms, why this railway makes sense. We now need proof. People will be much more accepting of the project if they are really convinced that it is a good idea. If you can’t prove the case, for goodness sake say so rather than let this drag on.

Yours faithfully

Dr. William Harrold

Co-founder Cambridge Approaches.