Freight Night: A Comedy Horror Show Coming Soon to Cambridge

Brought to Cambridge by Grant Shapps and the Department for Transport (spelling correction, by our Cambridge Approaches Horror Critic.)

EWR Co.’s 2019 public consultation about the EWR Central Section (EWR CS) does have a small paragraph about freight.

“The current indicative cost estimates are based on building a rail link that accommodates all types of rail freight. EWR Co will continue to consider whether providing capability for all types of freight is affordable and provides value for money in the context of anticipated freight demand.”

In summary they are saying that all options for rail freight are option.

As previously reported on this blog EWR Co. do now confirm that their proposed Option E route will support both freight and passenger services. But then we asked then the fateful question: Will there be freight trains at night? To which the response was:

“We have a study underway, and the next consultation will provide further information on freight on EWR.”

So the suspense mounts, but previous experience with EWR Co. suggests we had better prepare ourselves for the worst.

So, we are 2 years on from the 2019 consultation and not much progress on rail freight so far. This may be because EWR Co. are not responsible for the freight services, but Grant Shapps is. If you are kept at wake at night because of freight trains, its small comfort that they are not being operated by the EWR Co.!

Local MP, Anthony Browne, organised a meeting with EWR Co. and 20-30 Option E parish councillors on the 15th October 2020. At this meeting, freight services seemed an irritation to EWR Co. They explained that freight and fast passenger trains are not very compatible in the same timetable due to their different speeds. This leads us to conclude that much of the freight traffic will run at quiet times in the passenger schedule – for example at night. But also that EWR Co. may be resistant to review their plans in the light of freight demand.

The Cambridge Approaches alternative 7 route assumes a Cambourne north station with the line crossing the A428 before heading south through rural South Cambridgeshire passing between Toft and Comberton either to join the Cambridge Line south of Harston (which might then need to be four tracked) or to pass between Trumpington and Hauxton to join the West Anglia Main Line near Great Shelford. There would be collateral damage to several other beautiful villages and pieces of countryside not mentioned here for brevity.

From there, it would continue through Cambridge including the densely populated Mill Road area. Freight trains heading to the Haven Ports will then squeal around the tight bend onto the single track branch line across Coldham’s common and on towards the single track tunnel at Newmarket.

Like all good horror shows, it’s not always over when you think. The line may disturb people sleeping in residential Cherry Hinton, Fulbourn, and block up the 5 level crossings on the way to Newmarket. If you want to know what an overloaded level crossing is like try the one at Foxton. It is down 35 minutes in the hour at peak times.

Route of Rail Forecast” from Network Rail

Another important question is how many of the freight trains are we talking about per day (or night)?

Our lowest estimate for freight demand at opening of the EWR, in 2025, is about 20 – 30 freight trains (all types) per day. It would also require capacity upgrade of the Cambridge to Newmarket line. This is based on the England’s Economic Heartland Freight Study (from Jun 2019, see page 64).

Helpfully, Network Rail recently also published this long term forecast dated August 2020.

Figure 1: Routing of Rail Freight Forecasts published by Network Rail August 2020 p.16

Figure 1 above shows that the EWR link could divert about 50 freight trains per day by 2043/44. Assuming the worst case, that these ran at night to avoid conflict with the busy passenger timetable south of Cambridge, then we would have between 6 and 7 freight trains per hour. The report makes clear that this is a forecast for the total of trains going both ways. In 2043/44, we can see that the total traffic leaving the Haven Ports is between 100 and 120 trains per day.

The report explains that to alleviate capacity issues on other routes, they would want to use the new EWR and existing Felixstowe-Ely-Nuneaton lines as much as possible in order to leave the North London Line to handle freight from the North Thames terminals. Freight trains are not welcome in London where many parts of the system are heavily used by scheduled passenger trains.

On behalf of those people living close to the proposed or existing parts of the route I would ask you to stop and think about this for a minute. 6 or 7 freight trains per hour assuming all are over night. For people in the option E area and those south or east of Cambridge, consider also that when the EWR link crosses over an A road it needs around 8 metres of elevation about the road level. Freight trains demand gentle gradient, a maximum of 1:125. This implies an elevated track for 1 km either side of the A road. Noise would be heard a long distance away.

Cambridge at the Interface between Design Authorities

The EWR Central Section (Bedford to Cambridge) is being defined by EWR Co. and their contractor Arups for a fast passenger service. While the EWR Eastern Section (Cambridge to Ipswich) development is being designed by the EWR Consortium and their contractor Steer Consulting with freight from the Haven Ports in mind. But it’s one continuous railway.

Other than Grant Shapps of course, it is unclear who is responsible for the likely impact of freight on the Cambridge area. EWR Co. may protest that their 2019 consultation was non-statutory, but they are still narrowing down the options beyond the point where the Freight Night horror show for the Cambridge area becomes more and more likely.

To repeat what we have said, EWR Co. 2019 consultation did not inform the public about freight, except to say that all options are open. Nor was it mentioned in any of their analysis. Given this, how can EWR Co. possibly argue that their option E decision is still valid? We call for them to go back the drawing board listen to the public feedback about the northern approach to Cambridge, to consider also the eastern Cambridge approaches and come up with some new options that show more joined up thinking.

The CBRR Scheme and the Coldam’s Common Game

Map of Cambridge showing the EWR and Coldam’s Common

A map of the CamBedRailRoad (CBRR) proposal is here and its 14 identified advantages are set out here. It can be seen that CBRR propose a chord from the north (shown in red on the map above) around the edge of Coldham’s common so that through trains do not have to turn around on their journey through Cambridge. This CBRR route would also greatly reduce the amount of residential Cambridge blighted by the freight noise, because the route goes past fewer residential areas and the new chord would be less tightly curved. As a variant it would be possible to have a northern freight route that bypassed Cambridge completely.

EWR Co. removed the CBRR chord proposal in §16.15-§16.17 of their option report with such devastating arguments as it would cost money (who knew?) and the Coldham’s Common is a local nature reserve! (that is the pot calling the kettle black, don’t get us started on the environmental damage Option E would cause to South Cambridgeshire).

The CBRR route does mean passengers on through trains would need to change at Cambridge North rather than Cambridge Central if they want to go to Cambridge. Not a huge problem except for EWR Co. it seems (see option report §16.15). Of course if they want to go to Cambridge South or Stansted they can just stay on the train. (with the southern approach they would have to change.)

Then, in §16.22 of the Option Report EWR Co. we find this.

“However, approaching Cambridge from the north would require a reversing move at Cambridge station for any onward journeys to/from Ipswich, and to/from Norwich if services were to serve Cambridge rather than bypass the city, which would further increase journey times.”


CBRR rebutted every point in §16 of the option report here.

Game, set and match to CBRR on that one. Except that, oh dear, EWR Co. write the rules and so cannot lose. See here for further information

Rail Freight is a good thing, but in the right place.

Compared to transporting freight on the road, rail freight is a much greener approach, furthermore we can expect that by 2043/44 EWR will be electrified, and hopefully well before. However, the noise impact will still be very significant and there is really no reason to have to run this freight line through so many residential areas for the next 100 years.

Rail freight has to be part of the answer to the government’s objective to reduce carbon emissions and we support it for that reason.

As a parting thought the EWR Consortium say that the EWR link could be used to supply material for the construction of Sizewell C. The current approach could see large amounts of radio active material regularly passing through central Cambridge. Rail freight is good, but the line needs to be in the right place.


If it’s built we will see a significant amount of freight traffic on the EWR line. The West Anglia Main Line and Cambridge Line are already busy and if minimal upgrades are made then there will be pressure to run freight services at night. We call on EWR Co. to be much clearer on this point so that people know what is being proposed.

The whole section of the EWR link around Cambridge needs to be designed as a single system between Cambourne in the west say to Chippenham junction east of Newmarket. Having a change of design authority and budget holder at Cambridge almost bound to lead to sub-optimal solutions.

You can show your support for a better solution by signing CBRR’s petition for a fair assessment of a northern approach to Cambridge.


Please Sign The Petition & Webinars

It’s time to ask again for a fair evaluation the EWR approach into Cambridge either to a north or south station. There are problems with the selection of option E which have been flagged on this site, in our stakeholder meetings and elsewhere.

CamBedRailRoad started a petition before the last EWR Co. consultation with the right question. Their petition to the Department for Transport already has more signatures than the number of people who supported option E in the consultation response.

Let’s push it higher.

To sign the petition click here and follow the instructions

Note that donations are not necessary and will go to rather than CBRR

For an update on Cambridge Approaches see the following webinars

1 – The Eversdens, Harlton, Haslingfield and Harston 2/11/2020
2 – The Shelfords, Hauxton, Newton 2/12/2020
3 – Barton, Comberton, Toft 3/12/2020


Barbastelle Bats: are they important when considering the EWR route?

This Barbastelle objects to Option E interrupting its flight lines.

What are Barbastelle Bats?                   

The barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus), one of the UK’s rarest mammals, is primarily a woodland species, the colonies of which usually roost within ancient woodland trees. There are only a small number of known colonies of this species in Cambridgeshire, one of which is within woodland around the National Trust property at Wimpole.

Barbastelle bats typically select cracks and crevices in which to roost, mostly in old or damaged trees in ancient woodlands, but cracks and crevices in and around the timbers of old buildings may also be used. The Barbastelle bats at Wimpole form a maternity colony and within a colony there can be multiple roosts where groups of females gather to give birth and rear their young during the summer. The adult male barbastelle bats tend to roost elsewhere in isolation at this time. 

Barbastelles feed mainly on small to medium sized moths, they have a unique form of echo location known as ‘stealth echolocation’ —echolocation at intensities that are inaudible to distant moths. Their calls are more than 10 times quieter than those of other bats which hunt insects in the same way.

Barbastelles forage on average up to 5-7kms from their woodland roosts, though individual bats may forage further afield within the surrounding countryside. Between 2002 and 2005 the Cambridgeshire Bat Group surveyed, radio tagged and tracked bats from the Wimpole maternity colony and found that one adult female foraged as far afield as Grantchester, cited as 11km from the roost. (Vine C, 2002). 

Will the proposed rail route impact on the Barbastelle Bats?

The villages currently included in the EWR preferred route Option E are noted in Table 1 below with the crow flies distances ( from the Wimpole colony.

VillageWimpole Wood Maternity RoostBarbastelle tracked to village
Great Eversden3.2YES
Great Shelford13.0 
Little Eversden3.8YES
Table 1 Crow flies distances from Wimpole Maternity Roost to villages on Option E preferred route.

Grantchester * is included in Table 1 as this is the furthest distance that a barbastelle bat was tracked by the Cambridgeshire Bat Group, it is not in Option E. 

The villages highlighted in bold are all within the 5-7km foraging range and all villages, apart from Great Shelford, are within 11km. It should be noted that the radio-tracking carried out was only of a small number of individual bats at any one time and the absence of bats tracking to the other villages potentially impacted by the proposed route, does not indicate that barbastelle bats are absent from these villages, only that the radio-tagged bats were not tracked to these villages at the time of the survey.

Barbastelles prefer rural landscapes with deciduous woodland, wet meadows and water bodies. They commute to foraging sites along linear landscape features, such as woodland edges and hedgerows, similar to the hedgerows that act as wildlife corridors and connect our villages. The flight and foraging lines of the Wimpole barbastelles include the Bourn Brook corridor and the River Rhee, as well as the old Varsity railway line at the MRAO site, they have also been known to cross open areas such as arable fields to reach foraging grounds.

The Option E route is likely to bisect multiple known flight lines and foraging routes, see Map 1:

Map 1 pink denotes the main routes of radio-tracked bats, from 2002 survey (Vine C)

Disruption to the foraging routes and flight lines could have a potentially significant impact on the barbastelle bats foraging habits, particularly impacting on the breeding females, putting at risk the maternity roost and thus ultimately the species. The species is very sensitive to disturbance, including disturbance to roost-sites and access to food resources, which may be why it is such a rare bat. The Barbastelle is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, the species is classified as ‘near threatened’ with extinction (IUCN Red List 2020)

Are Barbastelle Bats Protected?

All bat species and their roosts are fully protected by UK legislation (the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as amended), and by EU law (the Habitats Directive, transposed into UK legislation by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017) which makes them European Protected Species. The Wimpole and Eversden Woods have the highest level of protection; the area is a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive, a designation brought about solely because of the presence of a breeding colony of barbastelle bats. 

The UK is also a signatory to the Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe, set up under the Bonn Convention. The Fundamental Obligations of Article III of this Agreement require the protection of all bats and their habitats, including the identification and protection from damage or disturbance of important feeding areas for bats. 

However, the current legislation does provide defences so that necessary operations may be carried out in places used by bats, provided the appropriate Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (in England this is Natural England) is notified and allowed a reasonable time to advise on whether the proposed operation should be carried out and, if so, the approach to be used. Licenses are required and a Habitats Regulation Assessment should be undertaken prior to Planning Approval being granted, under the Habitats Directive.

The Wimpole and Eversden Woods area, having a SAC designation, is required to have Conservation Objectives and these are noted as: 

“Ensure that the integrity of the site is maintained or restored as appropriate, and ensure that the site contributes to achieving the Favourable Conservation Status of its Qualifying Features, by maintaining or restoring;

  • The extent and distribution of the habitats of qualifying species
  • The structure and function of the habitats of qualifying species
  • The supporting processes on which the habitats of qualifying species rely
  • The populations of qualifying species, and,
  • The distribution of qualifying species within the site”

European Site Conservation Objectives for Eversden and Wimpole Woods SAC (UK0030331)

This means that when considering a potential impact to the integrity of the SAC, the foraging and commuting routes of the barbastelles must be taken into account. 

It is noted that EWR Co. have commissioned bat surveys and early publication of the results, including any appropriate actions to be taken with regard to the route alignments would be helpful in reassuring the public that EWR Co. are meeting their legal obligations and stated high environmental standards. Unfortunately it seems that any route through the already selected option E area will impact the barbastelles, it is recommended within the Habitats Directive that large infrastructure projects up to 5-10km from a SAC site should undertake a Habitats Regulation Assessment, to date this has not been done and it is not clear how an HRA would impact on the decision of Option E being the preferred route, or identify any mitigations to reduce the negative impact on the barbastelle bat population.


Barbastelle bats, like all bat species in England are well protected by legislation, the Wimpole barbastelle bats have the highest level of protection. The Habitats Directive includes protection of the habitat, including the flight and foraging lines upon which the bats rely to successfully breed and rear young.

It is clear that a rail route bisecting the foraging and flight paths of the bats is likely to impact on the colony and the bats ability to nurture and rear young. The extent to which it impacts will depend upon the chosen route and mitigations. It is known that flight line Gantry’s which have been used on some major road developments are both expensive and ineffective and are no longer recommended. Some European countries use Green Bridges for priority species protection but the effectiveness for bat species is not well documented.

Barbastelle bat survey data, undertaken as recommended by the Bat Conservation Trust Good Practice Guidance (2016) will be crucial in informing the planning application, any associated HRA and the final route alignment.


BAROVA Sylvia (European Commission) & STREIT Andreas (UNEP/EUROBATS) (Ed) 2018 Action Plan for the Conservation of All Bat Species in the European Union 2018 – 2024 

Collins J (Ed) 2016 Bat Surveys for Professional Ecologists: Good Practice Guidelines (3rd Ed) The Bat Conservation Trust, London

Damant S, Vine C (2006) The Barbastelle at Wimpole Nature In Cambridgeshire No 48 pp62-65

Doogal Distance Calculator

European Protected Species National Planning Policy – National Planning Policy 

Framework (NPPF) 2019

Lewanzik D, Goerlitz HR. 2018 Continued source level reduction during attack in the low-amplitude bat Barbastella barbastellus prevents moth evasive flight. Funct Ecol. 00:1–11.  

Natural England 2018 European Site Conservation Objectives: supplementary advice on conserving and restoring site features Eversden and Wimpole Woods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) – Site code: UK 0030331 

Natural England European Site Conservation Objectives for Eversden and Wimpole Woods SAC (UK0030331) 

IUCN 2020 The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2020-2

Downloaded November 2020

Vine C 2002 A study of Barbastelle bats (Barbastella barbastellus) at Wimpole Cambridgeshire July 2000 – August 2002

Authors and Contributors: 

Angela Thompson

Chris Vine

Pippa Keynes 

William Harrold

Route Alignments

The Case for an EWR Cambourne North Station

**** For people new to this website: Cambridge Approaches favours a northern approach to Cambridge. Routes in this post are showing what might happen if we don’t do anything. They are not routes that are endorsed by Cambridge Approaches. ***

Greater Cambridge Planning Map showing available sites for development (residential sites are red, other are purple). There’s a lot more north of Cambourne than near Caxton!

East West Rail’s Option E has located the Cambourne station to the south of the town. We think this is a misguided and short-sighted proposal that would fail to deliver potential commercial benefits, be more inconvenient for passengers and damaging to the environment.

The prime reason for this is that a station to the south, near Caxton, is completely impractical for the current housing and for the planned housing developments at West Cambourne and Bourn Airfield as well as expected developments to the north. Locating the station to the north of the A428 would not only unlock commercial benefits for the town in terms of land values but also reduce the number and length of commuter car trips required to the station. It would allow the area to be more easily developed according to the local plan and the wishes of local people who may not care about an extra 2 minutes to get to Oxford because, frankly, they very rarely go there anyway.

A transport hub north of the A428 connecting the CAM (the proposed metro system) and C2C (the proposed Cambourne to Cambridge busway), which both plan to follow the A428 near Cambourne, and a north Cambourne EWR station would provide an efficient overall transport system between homes and workplaces. The ‘multi-modal corridor’ (i.e. running different forms of transport in one corridor) objective of the OxCam Arc could be supported by an EWR station close to the A428 expressway north of Cambourne. Although an alternative C2C route has recently been suggested to connect to a south Cambourne station, it would need to cut across green recreational parkland areas within Cambourne – clearly undesirable.

Such a northern station also allows EWR total flexibility in the choice of a northerly or southerly approach into Cambridge – a station in south Cambourne would effectively lock EWR into a southerly route. While EWR’s current proposal (part of their Option E) is to enter Cambridge via the proposed Cambridge South station, they have accepted, recently more openly, that there is a case for entering Cambridge via Cambridge North. This route would serve communities in Northstowe, Oakington and the many planned developments in this area, and hence improve the currently poor business case, as well as minimising the environmental damage that a new rail line will cause.

The CamBedRailRoad Route into Cambridge North (Source: CBRR)

By locating the station to the north of the A428, the EWR line would not need to cross the planned A428 expressway between the Black Cat and Caxton Gibbet roundabouts (i.e. to the west of Cambourne) and so dispense with a major design interface which is all too often the cause of significant cost overruns and programme delays.

Multimodal CBRR Route to Black Cat Roundabout. (Source: CBRR)

The environment too would benefit from a north Cambourne station. By integrating the station with the local housing developments, the visual impact could be reduced compared to a station in open countryside. The route out of a north Cambourne station towards Cambridge should follow the A428 for several miles, whichever approach into Cambridge is finally adopted. This multi-modal alignment would have less impact on wildlife, including the legally protected Special Area of Conservation at Wimpole and Eversden and the foraging and flight lines of the Barbastelle bats, all over the current Option E area than if the road and rail ran along separate routes. The same can be said of the route from a Cambourne north station west towards Bedford where there is an opportunity for a multi-modal corridor all the way to the Black Cat Roundabout, a distance of over 17 miles. Other advantages of multi-modal corridors include less damage to precious farmland, less disturbance to rural villages and less severance of important links between villages e.g. for school children, not to mention the MRAO planning exclusion zone. We have highlighted the advantages of multi-modal corridors before along with our example route to Cambridge South.

Two variants of our alternative 6 route to Cambridge South and alternative 7 that EWR Co. may be sadly be considering.

This Cambourne North Station proposal is strongly supported by Cambourne Town Council, members of South Cambridgeshire District Council and local MP Anthony Browne. It was also a core component of the popular CBRR proposal. It has so many advantages over the current Option E solution.

It may be possible to have a Cambourne North Station and a route around the edge of Bourn Airfield and then back on to the option E line (see alternative 7 above). We have some reports that this is what EWR Co. are planning. Public recording of survey evidence and the strange assumption we understand (from Anthony Browne’s constituency office) that EWR Co. are making about not needing to double the busy Cambridge Line south of Shepreth Branch junction point to something like our alternative 4 route for the approach to Cambridge south. This would be an environmental and planning blight disaster for our area and not make full use of the possible multi-modal corridors. There is an opportunity for EWR Co. to do the right thing by the communities they aim to serve and in the process provide some sorely needed improvement to the weak business case for their railway that we will all be paying for.

We will have to wait until the New Year before we know whether EWR also see the sense of this.


More Q&A with the EWR Co. (mostly about Freight)

AC7XAK Freightliner freight train, pulling out of the North rail freight terminal, Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk, UK.. Image shot 04/2007. Exact date unknown.

We sent a batch of questions (numbered 25-34) to the East West Rail Company on the 22nd October 2020. After some chasing we received the following answers on the 19th November 2020.

We sent questions associated with the unexplained cost increases post to EWR Co. at the same time that we put them on this web site. There should be a fundamental review of the validity any project who cost has tripled in 12 months!

We have also asked about why we can’t see the results of the publicly funded environmental surveys conducted so far. They say it’s GDPR, however, we have cases where they won’t even share the results with the landowner who land is being surveyed. Lack of transparency is never good especially with public money. What do EWR Co. have to hide on this?

There is difference in emphasis between verbal assurances and written answers given by the East West Rail Company. For example, we have heard on more than one occasion verbally, that roads and rights of way cut by the railway would be restored unless it was just about impossible to do so (Ian Parker at the “Let’s Restart the Conversation” meeting, Will Gallagher at the CA-EWR meeting with Anthony Browne). The “substantive response” to the same question talks about each crossing being dealt with on an individual basis. A lot less reassuring.

Similarly, EWR Co. verbally are quite dismissive of freight, perhaps because they are not themselves tasked with providing a freight service and because they know it is not popular with residents. To form you own view, this is what freight trains crossing the river cam would look and sound like.

Again the substantive answers from EWR Co. are less reassuring. The line will be freight capable and they are exploring what freight services might be offered including night time operation.

Steer consulting are developing a strategic outline business case for the eastern section for the East West Rail Consortium according to the following tender document. Look at section 2.2 on freight demand which concludes :

“East West Rail presents a huge opportunity to become a secondary freight route, enabling more services to bypass congested London routes currently used to get to the South West, Midlands and the North. It also presents an opportunity to move aggregates for the development of new housing and nationally significant projects, such as Sizewell C.”

An earlier response from EWR Co. on the subject of freight received by a member of the CA working group ran as follows:

“In relation to your question about freight, we are currently designing the route to be compatible for both passenger and freight services in the future. We will look to ensure the route supports existing freight, and are currently undertaking a study to understand potential freight use. 

The remit we’ve been given by the Department for Transport covers the infrastructure between Oxford and Cambridge, opening up new, long-distance journeys for people who can both take advantage of the EWR services or change directly onto main lines coming north/south the majority of which inter-change with the route. We continue to work to ensure that EWR enables good connectivity beyond the area between Oxford and Cambridge. There’s nothing in our plans that would preclude us from expanding our remit were the Secretary of State to request it.

We’re aware of proposals for EWR services to be extended further east from Cambridge into Norwich/Ipswich and beyond – specifically, the proposals put forward by the East West Rail Consortium in their publication “the Eastern Section Prospectus for Growth” published in January 2019. We look forward to hearing how this progresses.”

The implication here is that they have a very passive involvement with freight while the people developing the business case for freight services on the eastern section, do not have to face any scrutiny from the people affected by the new railway central section. The situation is deceptive – which is why we are pointing it out.

There was no mention of freight services in the 2019 EWR Co. consultation, but it now emerges that freight may well be significant. If, like me, you are skeptical about the demand for commuting between Oxford and Cambridge, freight may in fact end up being the dominant user of the line. The implication is that the 2019 EWR Co. consultation was misleading and hence invalid because it did not mention freight.

It is also interesting to learn that no Strategic Environmental Assessment has been performed, because they do not need one. Why is that? We have a lot more to say about the environmental side of this. Stay tuned.

Following on from the very well attended Eversdens meeting on 17th November, thank you for the huge turnout for the 4 villages webinar on Friday. A recording for those people that missed it is here.


More Cambridge Approaches Public Webinars on the EWR.

Some free Advice for EWR Co. about the Route Alignment, this time on the A603.

CA was invited to present to an Eversdens meeting on the 17t November with CBRR and Cllr Van De Weyer, deputy leader of SCDC. The meeting was very well attended and it was clear that there is considerable public opposition to the Option E decision in The Eversdens.

In addition to the CA webinar on the 20th November, we would like to invite you to two more public webinars.

Schedule as follows, click the link to see recordings:

7.30pm 2nd December 2020 Hauxton, The Shelfords, Newton, S. Trumpington.
7.30pm 3rd December 2020 Barton, Comberton, Toft

These webinars will be slightly tailored to address issues for the local parishes mentioned, but all are welcome. They follow on from the series of webinars we gave back in September and reflect our latest understanding of the situation.

There will be presentations from some of the members of the CA working group followed by a Q&A session. The 20th November webinar is currently near capacity so if you miss it, do feel free to register for one of these other ones.

Some More Concerned Residents of the Option E area. These ones are Legally Protected.
Business Case

Unexplained Cost Increases for the EWR Central Section

Peaceful View Across the Option E Area. Imagine a Deep Railway Cutting in the Foreground and these freight trains going through it.

EWR Co. have given us two snapshots of their cost estimates for the East West Railway Central Section (i.e. Bedford to Cambridge). Firstly, at the time of the last public consultation in January 2019 in Table 3 of the Technical Report[1] and then again in January 2020 when they announced the Option E decision in their Route Option Report[2]. Note that all figures are in 2010 prices so we have to add around 15.6% to get to 2019 prices.

Both reports give the total costs for each route option and then break them down into upfront capital costs and recurring costs over 60 years according to the Department for Transport methodology. The recurring[3] costs are the “infrastructure and renewal costs” (called “whole life costs” in the 2020 report, we assume that these are the same thing), operational costs and fare revenues. 

This analysis is done from the taxpayer’s point of view so fare revenue is treated as a cost, because the taxpayer has to pay the fares to use the trains.

The Option Report also gives figures using a more optimistic (we think very optimistic) NIC high growth assumption and the costs are higher. The cost figures we give here are the lower “Department for Transport (DfT) Business as Usual” (BAU) figures.

The three tables below show the total, capital and recurring costs. The total is just the sum of the capital and recurring costs. The figures in the table are the costs in the Technical Report, the costs in the Option Report and the percentage increase from one to the other. 

Table 1 Comparison of Total Costs
Table 2 Comparison of Capital Costs
Table 3 Comparison of Recurring Costs

First impressions looking at the data:

  1. all the total costs went up hugely and, since EWR Co. did not present a comparison, they made no comments about why this has happened. 
  2. the recurring costs went up by so much it gives one very little confidence that they are right. If they are right now, then they were very misleading at the consultation.
  3. the capital cost for Option E rose by much less than the other options and no explanation is given. However, it is certainly a useful result for EWR Co. as it allows them to justify the choice of Option E since it was otherwise the most expensive of the 5 options.
  4. The total cost figures for 4 of the options are identical – this may be an unlikely coincidence or possibly that the cost estimates have not been produced with the expected amount of rigour.

Note 33 on p.100 of the Option Report states that for the DfT BAU table 15.4 (the data we presented above), the Bassingbourn station is removed in Options A, C and D, while for the NIC high growth table 15.5 the station is left in. It then says that the capital costs therefore differ between the growth scenarios for these route options.

However, we find that while the capital costs of A and D do go up by £0.3 and £0.2 billion respectively, to allow for the additional station, the capital cost of Option C is unchanged at £3.5 billion. Option C is therefore anomalous.

Looking again at table 15.4 the revenues for Options A, C and D are not significantly lower than Options B and E even though they have one less station. How can that be?  

Questions for East West Rail

  1. Please can you explain the huge increase in capital cost between the figures in table 3 of the Technical Report and Table 15.4 of the Options Report?
  2. Why did the recurring costs (the difference between the total costs and the capital costs) go up by up to 1100% between the same two reports?
  3. In the light of the order of magnitude increase in recurring costs, does that mean that the recurring costs implied at the time of the public consultation were misleading? If not, why not?
  4. In the light of the order of magnitude increase in recurring costs, how can we have confidence that the figures currently presented are anything like correct? 
  5. Why did the capital cost of the chosen Option E uniquely rise by so much less than the other options? This is the main reason why the most expensive option in January 2019, became the one with the highest BCR in January 2020. Without an explanation of this cost increase, this BCR justification of Option E is meaningless. So please give a detailed explanation.
  6. What was the cost given by the MoD to remove their Bassingbourn site and what alternatives were looked at?
  7. Given that Options A, C and D did not have a station at Bassingbourn in Table 15.4 why was there no visible impact on the revenues, whole life costs or operating costs?
  8. Given that you state in note 33 on p.100 of the 2020 Options Report that the removal of Bassingbourn Station reduces the capital cost, why is the capital cost identical for Route C in Tables 15.4 and 15.5 of the same report?

[1] East West Rail Bedford to Cambridge Route Option Consultation Technical Report January 2019 Table 3, p.40

[2] East West Rail Bedford to Cambridge Preferred Route Option Report January 2020 Table 15.4, p.100

[3] EWR Co. do not give these a name, but we refer to them here as recurring costs.


Webinar for The Eversdens, Harlton, Haslingfield and Harston

Another CA Poster – see details at the end of this post for how to get one for your village.

Cambridge Approaches have made some progress since our last round of webinars back in September. We would like to do an updated webinar initially for residents of The Eversdens, Harlton, Haslingfield and Harston and in conjunction with parish councillors from these villages.

The presentation will be led by David Revell of Cambridge Approaches who is a civil engineer with extensive experience of railway construction and a resident of the area. He will be supported by other CA members of the working and oversight group as necessary.

As before, there will be ample opportunity for residents to ask questions.

The schedule of the webinar is as follows:

We expect the webinars to last about an hour or so.

**** Here is a link to the recording.****


If you have a site for one of these large posters and would like one please email They are quite expensive (£40 each) which is the cost we pay to the printer. But in the right place they can be very effective at spreading the word and letting people know how we feel.


Cambridge Approaches Praises Use of Multi-Modal Corridors for the EWR Central Section

Road and Rail in the Same Corridor. M1 near Mill Hill

Cambridge Approaches is pleased to see the recent  “announcement of new a off-road route for the C2C guided busway” between Cambourne and Cambridge, partly along the north side of the A428. The guided bus and Metro would relieve the pressure on local transport systems and shows a great example of joint planning by using multi-modal design where different forms of transport use the same corridors. We need to see more of this type of planning.

The National Infrastructure Commission report “Partnering for Prosperity” encapsulates the transport vision for the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge Arc. “The proposed East West Rail and Oxford-Cambridge Expressway projects would provide a step change in connectivity across the arc, linking its major economic centres in a way not seen for over half a century. 

“These schemes, taken together, have the potential to create a multi-modal transport spine, which through new stations and junctions, can enable the creation of new communities.”

Multi-modal transport spines or corridors have several benefits. They can:

  • allow passengers to easily change between modes of transport: car, train, bus, cycle, walking and metro
  • reduce the impact on villages and the surrounding countryside / urban landscape in several ways: noise, visual, farming, severance of roads and rights of way, listed buildings, historical sites, wildlife reserves and the beautiful countryside we all appreciate
  • allow a better alignment with local development plans
  • offer opportunities for shared infrastructure costs and hence are fiscally efficient.

Cambridge Approaches welcomes the news that East West Rail Company is also looking at a multi-modal corridor and has listened to feedback on the subject. However, they have expressed some general concerns about the use of such a corridor alongside the A428 and the M11 but Cambridge Approaches considers that these are not valid in these locations. 

The East West Railway concerns about the practicality of multi-modal spines are shown below with Cambridge Approaches responses: 

“• Railways and roads have different tolerance for gradients: roads can climb much more steeply than rail The proposed line is going through reasonably flat countryside.

• Railways and roads have different preferences for curves: road designers tend to prefer to include bends and other features in new roads – avoiding long, straight sections helps to keep drivers alert; railway designers prefer long, straight sections to improve visibility. The A428 and M11 are broadly straight and certainly within the limit of curves for railways. 

• Bringing them close in places but diverging in others could result in areas between the two becoming wasted ‘dead land’. With careful planning, the road, rail, bus and bicycle lanes could all stay close together to reduce any dead land. Any unavoidable dead spaces could be used for wildlife protection.

• Creating appropriate access routes for people to cross a combined rail-road corridor could be more challenging than across two separate projects. If the routes for transport are sensibly designed with small areas of dead land between them (see above), continuous bridges crossing will be cheaper than individual bridges crossing separated transport routes.

It may be that for short stretches in specific locations building road and rail close together is the right approach. 

We are keen to explore the efficiencies which could be realised from more than one infrastructure project working in the same area at the same time. We are in touch with the team at the A428 and will continue to work with our counterparts at Highways England and your Local Authorities to ensure that the planning and delivery of these transformative projects is coordinated.”

If one wants an example of road and rail side-by-side have a look at the stretch of the M1 from Mill Hill to the north circular road. This was built about 50 years ago; Cambridge Approaches is encouraging EWR Co to persist with using multi modal corridors. Rural south west Cambridgeshire deserves better than the further pillage of the option E area by multiple route corridors for transport that doesn’t serve its communities.

Cambridge Approaches is urging EWR to use existing transport corridors where this is at all practical. Cambridge Approaches is calling on the local politicians and planners to resist attempts by EWR Co to use railway lines outside of existing transport corridors unless essential.

Business Case

Is the EWR Central Section a Boondoggle? A Sanity Check on its Business Case.

Whatever you think of the Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman, he did make some really interesting points. For example, he proposed that spending should be categorized according to a 2 by 2 box as follows[1]:

You are the Spender On Whom SpentOn Whom Spent
Whose MoneyYouSomeone Else
Someone else’s34
Milton Friedman’s Spending Categories 1-4

He then goes on to give many examples of how category 1 spending is often performed much more efficiently than the other categories especially category 4. Category 4 spending can often result in a Boondoggle. This is defined by Wikipedia as “a project that is considered a waste of both time and money, yet is often continued due to extraneous policy or political motivations.”

The East West Railway Central Section (EWR CS) is definitely category 4 spending. Let’s see what we might think of it, if it were category 1.

The estimated total cost of the EWR CS rose from £1.9Bn[2] for option A in the January 2019 consultation to £5.6Bn[3] for the chosen option E in January 2020. That’s an increase of 295%. Little or no explanation of this increase is given in the EWR Preferred Option Report and shame on me for not questioning it. But hey, it’s someone else’s money, right?

Well, the government either pays for it out of taxation in which case we all pay for it now, or adds to the peacetime record £2 trillion public debt and our children or grandchildren pay for it. Another option is that we have a period of high inflation in which case, well we all pay for it. There is no escape from the cost and, since south Cambridgeshire is quite a wealthy area, we can expect to pay more than pro-rata of the UK population.

How much do we pay each? Well, there are public works going on all over the UK, so let’s generously attribute this to the to the population of the Oxford Cambridge Arc which is currently 3.7 million people. Let’s further assume that only half of these live in the Bedford to Cambridge section. Taking an average of 2.5 people per household then we are looking at a bill of 2 x 2.5 x 5.6e9 / 3.7e6 = £7,568 per household. Ouch! If you had the choice, would your household spend this on the railway?

The railway is being optimised for long distance trips rather than lots of stations to support commuting. I have been in the Cambridge area since the 1980s and I have been to beautiful Oxford 3 times, once by bus, once on the way back from a holiday in Wales and once by car. Milton Keynes, well, I’ve been to Ikea, but I needed to take the car to bring back the furniture. Bedford, Bicester, St. Neots, Aylesbury etc, sorry never been there.

I have worked in the Cambridge Tech sector for decades, travelled all around the world, but latterly found that much of the collaboration was by digital means. Am I typical? Well let’s look at the 2014 Atkins report which was one of the early studies underlying the East West Railway. Under the section “evidence-based conclusions” we find: 

“Poor east-west orbital connectivity in is apparent in long journey times by both rail and car and is also reflected in the very low demand at present between locations on this arc;”

This is a curious statement. They found evidence for poor demand and assumed that if they built an expressway and an east west railway then demand would grow. Probably true, but would it grow enough to pay for the costs? Atkins are a large consulting company are they at all conflicted in making an assessment for the case for the East West Railway? Anyway, it looks like a high-risk assumption to me. But hey, it’s not my money, right?

Even a back of fag packet calculation shows there’s a problem.

From there are very roughly 250,000 people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in classes of occupation who may be considered to do a lot of business travel (managers, directors and senior officials, professional occupations, assoc. prof. and tech occupations, sales and customer services from Occupation Type table).

Very generously, guess that 10% of these people would travel to Oxford or Milton Keynes etc once a month on average. This equates to a total of 25,000 trips per month (each way). 

Number of trains per month at say 4 trains an hour for 8 hours each way = 4x8x30 = 960, say 1,000 trains per month

Number of business people per train = 25.

OK there are some people travelling for leisure and other reasons as well and it doesn’t allow for potential growth over 100 years, but given that an 8-car train can take about 400 people and even if the demand calculations are out by a factor of 2, there is still a problem for such a line. 

At the very least the EWR CS should be delayed until the demand is properly estimated and publicised in a more stable economic climate (post pandemic and post Brexit).

Another piece of evidence can be found in this diagram in the National Infrastructure Commission report on the Oxford Cambridge Arc.

Figure 9 of NIC Report Partnering for Prosperity

This diagram shows the strong demand for commuting around all the cities in the Arc. It does not demonstrate demand for travel from end to end. Meeting commuter demand is linked to supporting housing growth which is an objective of the NIC report for the development of the Arc. 

There are cheaper ways to meet commuter demand than a heavy railway such as the EWR CS. What about busways, trams and a local light railway such as the proposed Cambridge Metro?

So that you can see the disconnect in thinking here, let’s have a look at what the EWR Co.’s route option report says about the business case for the Option E decision.

“1.19  EWR Co’s analysis has concluded that when looking across these five key criteria Route E is most likely to deliver against the strategic objectives for EWR and provide the best overall value for money from government’s investment in the railway.”

There is an imagination failure. Where is the comparison with the counterfactual, do nothing assumption? Where is the comparison with other solutions to meet the need to support commuters/housing development?

Given the current (lack of) evidence presented for the EWR CS by government, it looks like a Boondoggle to me and I’d rather my £7,568 was spent on something else.

[1] Milton Friedman “Free to Choose” 1980, p.146

[2] EWR Bedford to Cambridge Route Option Consultation Technical Report January 2019 §9.1, Table 3, p.40

[3] EWR Bedford to Cambridge Preferred Route Option Report January 2020  §15.13, Table 15.4, p.100