Let’s Restart the Conversation

Sunset over the River Cam (Photo: Doug Thompson)

This post has been updated (19/10/2020) to include the details of the questions and answers from this session in spreadsheet form. The spreadsheet below shows the questions asked by the CA working group and representatives from parishes in the area (CA oversight group). We show the “substantive” answers the the EWR team sent us by email a few weeks after the event, but also the answers we received to some of the questions from careful notes taken during the meeting. There are some interesting differences, for example on question 14 the verbal answer given in the meeting is much more reassuring than the “substantive” answer after the meeting which completely removes the commitment to restore access to roads and rights of way cut by the railway – what are we to think?

East West Rail reached out to local villages in the Option E search area this week in an effort to re-engage with the parish councils with a video conference for Western Villages on Monday and with Eastern ones on Tuesday (24th and 25th August 2020 respectively). In both cases, after an initial presentation from EWR, the time was given over to Q&A and a discussion of how to work together.

Supported by Harston parish council, in the Tuesday session, Cambridge Approaches’ David Revell was given time to ask several questions. The main speakers from EWR in the Q&A session were Will Gallagher, strategy and Ian Parker, who is responsible for the design and implementation of the railway.

The main points we noted were as follows:

  1. EWR is willing to work with Cambridge Approaches – EWR want to propose how, regular meeting were suggested on our side.
  2. The alignment options inside the Option E search area, planned to be publicised by EWR in January 2021, will allow residents to see how close their houses might beto each option. They will just show the centre line of the alignment option with some indication of the engineering works involved.
  3. EWR confirmed that they are looking at an alignment option involving a cutting south of Haslingfield and pointing out that cuttings create an opportunity to mitigate the effects of noise. The visual impact of such a cutting was raised, but the conservation did not conclude on that point.
  4. Ian Parker said it was very unlikely that a tunnel would be part of the solution. The topography does not warrant it and the cost would be a consideration.
  5. EWR conversations with the MRAO are ongoing. Main issues are obstruction of line of sight of a telescope when pointing at 90 degrees and vibration effects from the railway. Given this is one or a small number of telescopes and the agreement might have a profound effect on the route alignment we asked if there had been any discussion of moving the telescopes. David Revell said that the balance is between the quality of life of around 20,000 residents every hour of every day for the life of the railway and the use of a telescope under limit case conditions. EWR said it had been treated as a constraint, but maybe they should consider that.
  6. Option E was the most expensive option in the Q1 2019 consultation – so why was it selected? EWR said that the costings had “matured” and that Option E had the best business case at the time of the decision which was endorsed by the Secretary of State (for transport i.e. Grant Shapps). We have asked for a copy of the business plan at the time of sign off.
  7. EWR are looking at routes crossing the Cambridge to King’s Cross line, because they see benefits in service level from doing so.
  8. It is almost certain that the route from Shepreth Junction into Cambridge will require an additional two tracks to the existing two tracks. If the EWR railway joins further south than that then they are looking at whether to increase the number of tracks.
  9. The EWR is unlikely to directly affect the Foxton level crossing.
  10. EWR have an obligation to maintain access on roads and rights of way that are crossed by the new railway. They are not keen to introduce new level crossing because of national policy on that.
  11. EWR will perform baseline environmental noise measurements, but this has not yet been done.
  12. The Option E decision is the preferred route option endorsed by the Secretary of State for Transport. EWR will continue to back-check the business case in the light of new information and will review the decision if something changes.
  13. EWR confirmed that there are alignment options in the area between the two mainlines (Little Shelford area).
  14. EWR explained the criteria for assessment, Ian Parker talked about 5 parts: Economic, strategic, finances/cost to build and the way it will be built (also called the management case. For the economics they compare cost of construction and operation with the benefits. EWR have been talking to the Department of Communities and Local Government about the potential for (housing) development in the area. They have taken account of plans to develop new settlements in the area and expanding existing settlements; we do take some credence of that in planning the route; it’s important that as many people as possible are able to use the service when it is delivered.
  15. The internal plan in EWR is to be ready for the second consultation in mid-January 2021. However, if the COVID situation at that time still prevents face to face consultation meetings, then it might be delayed for that reason. The Planning Application (DCO) is likely to be made in the middle of 2022, but they are looking at accelerate that so as to minimise the time of uncertainty.
  16. Although Cambridge Approaches were not present, we heard that on the Monday session EWR proposed that the last station to the west before Cambridge south would be south of Cambourne towards Caxton. Several speakers said they wanted it to the north of Cambourne.

Radio Coverage

The View North From Money Hill (Doug Thompson)

William Harrold from Cambridge Approaches will be interviewed by Dotty McLeod on her BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Breakfast Show on Tuesday 25th August at around 7.20am. Tune in to hear the interview!


Progress Update

Radio Telescopes at Lord’s Bridge (Photo: Doug Thompson)

Thanks to the many people that have responded to the receipt of our flyer. This has not yet been distributed to all the affected villages, but we are working on it. Thanks also to the volunteers who have delivered so many of them already. Haslingfield and Harlton have been done, Barton and Great Shelford are in progress.

We received many responses on expressing support for what we are doing. We have had expressions of surprise, anger, frustration, loss of sleep and sadness about the situation. Also there have been possible solutions for the best route.

We received several comments on the design of the flyer, most commonly – can we have a bigger version of the map? This map shows our view of possible route options. We are working on that and aim to put something on this site soon.

We met with Anthony Browne our local MP. He has been assured by East West Rail that they are working on a solution that will have minimal impact on residents (a figure of 20 houses was mentioned) and that it will run through the northern part of the Option E search area. There are no zero impact options. He also said that they intend to run Electric rather than Diesel trains due a change of policy from the new secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps. Let’s see if these statements are confirmed in writing by EWR. Anthony Browne said that a consultation from EWR with a detailed alignment proposal is expected early in 2021.

We sent a Freedom of Information request to EWR. They have confirmed that they are working on a response and expect to give it to us by 3rd September (which is the statutory 20 working days).

EWR have setup a meeting with Parish Councillors on the 25th August and we will attend that. Some additional questions have been tabled to them for that meeting. We understand that they also have a meeting with County Councillors on the 24th..


Cambridge Approaches Action Group

 AC7XAK Freightliner freight train, pulling out of the North rail freight terminal, Port of Felixstowe, Suffolk, UK.

(Taken from the upcoming September 2020 Haslingfield and Harlton Church and Village Article)


After the public consultation last year, East West Rail (EWR) decided in January this year to focus their attention on route ‘option E’ for the section of their new railway between Bedford and Cambridge. It is classed as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project and will form the busy central-section of the final East West Railway between East Anglia’s ports and the Midlands, serving fast growing towns along its route. Why the multi-modal corridor to the north proposed by CamBedRailRoad was not selected remains a mystery. ‘Option E’ is not a rail alignment but a corridor, several miles wide in places, through which the line will run. It includes Haslingfield and the outskirts of Harlton but also extends to Comberton and Barton in the north and Newton and The Shelfords in the east. EWR are currently carrying out further design and survey work to determine different line options which are planned to be used in a public consultation in 2021 before their selection of a preferred alignment. Construction is expected to start in 2025.

What to expect

What little detail we know about the alignment is given in the consultation response. EWR are funded by the tax-payer and we have submitted a Freedom of Information request to them to find out more. We know the line will connect with the Liverpool Street line near Great Shelford and that EWR have stated that they will avoid residential areas and reduce negative environmental impacts. We believe the line will avoid the radio telescopes (MRAO), forcing possible alignments towards the boundaries of the option E area. EWR have discussed exclusion distances with the MRAO but so far have not made this information public.

If the MRAO requirements are respected and the line goes to the north, it will pass close to Barton and then follow the M11 before crossing the A1301 in Great Shelford. Other options to the south would have much more of an impact on Harlton and Haslingfield in terms of noise, air quality and visual intrusion. It is very likely, given our knowledge of the location of surveys that EWR have requested and undertaken, that they are seriously considering an options skimming close to Haslingfield Road, Harlton, the top of Knapp Rise, School Lane and The Elms before passing just south of Harston.  Some minor roads and footpaths may be closed.

EWR’s diesel trains will be a mixture of passenger and freight with night-time operations. This will inevitably create more noise and air pollution, the extent of which would depend on the option chosen.

What we can do

We successfully stopped the Cemex waste incinerator 15 years ago, but this is potentially the biggest disruption to Haslingfield and Harlton for a generation and it is amazing to us how little local people are aware of it. Irreversible decisions will be taken soon.

We feel that the residents of the area should have an input into this decision-making process and now have agreement of the affected parishes to form an action group. The intention is also to work with EWR and other stakeholders in discussing alignment options and mitigating the impacts. We will generate our own options and, together, select one that is least damaging to the area. We will then lobby EWR to adopt this option in the hope of getting a better outcome for all. If we do not express our wishes at an early stage, the options may be restricted and residents will be presented with a fait accompli.

If you are interested in helping or finding out more, please subscribe free on  our website


EWR Ecological Survey Experience June 2020

A concerned local resident (Photo: Doug Thompson)

A resident in the Option E search area who I will call Jane, recently had her garden surveyed by people from East West Rail. We understand from talking to Ardent, that the surveys were performed by the Engineering company Arup on behalf of EWR. Jane is an ecologist by profession and so is well placed to comment for us at Cambridge Approaches. She sets out her experience below.

“Our garden was surveyed in the summer to inform the EWR route alignment.  The pair of surveyors recorded the surrounds of our property.  I asked them what they’d discovered from the desk studies that should have been undertaken prior to detailed ecological surveys. They did not know of any desk studies, or had not been made aware of the findings of any such studies.  They did not know when, or if, they would be surveying neighbouring gardens or fields.  

Following this, I emailed EWR to ask for clarification on the ecology surveys. 

Specifically, I asked: 

Q: Have ecological desk studies been undertaken? If not, why not? 

Q. How can a comprehensive understanding of the ecology of an area be gained from discrete, isolated (in time and spatially) surveys? For example, we know that badgers forage in our garden.  This may not be immediately apparent from one brief survey (though we did tell the surveyors).  How will you identify the badger setts in the surrounding area if you a) don’t carry out desk studies to find out what local records exist, and b) if you don’t survey the fields where the setts are found? 

Q. Could you please outline the broad areas over which ecological surveys are taking place?  i.e. could you confirm that ecological surveys are being carried out across the whole swathe of the outlined area, not just the narrow band to the south of the outlined area. 

Q. What stage of the environmental assessment process is the project at? Scoping? Screening? 

I sent my queries by email on 29 June and 10 July, and again on 12 August. I have not, to date, received answers. 

Given that the planned public consultation on this project did not take place, the lack of communication from the EWR project is extremely disappointing. 

In EWR’s own words, they will  “work hard to earn the trust of anyone who might be impacted by the railway by being transparent and clear at every stage” (quote from “Connecting Communities: The Preferred Route Option between Bedford and Cambridge”.   This has yet to be demonstrated.”

It seems that from Jane’s experience that there are questions to be answered about the value of the ecological surveys being performed by East West Rail. These surveys are all paid for with hard-earned tax-payers money. Will they actually provide accurate information to guide the routing and necessary mitigations for the railway. Jane clearly has her doubts. It is also disappointing that EWR have not responded to her.


FOI Request Sent to EWR

Resident searching for free information (Photo : Doug Thompson)

The East West Rail Company is publicly funded and as such part of its accountability to the tax payer is to respond to freedom of information requests. We sent an FOI on the 6th August covering the following areas:

1. Locations of all requested and executed surveys (structural, geotechnical, environmental, ecological, geological and otherwise in your leaflet entitled “What kind of surveys are happening at the moment?”) in and around the Option E area of the Central Section of the proposed Railway. Please redact any personal information like the names of the residents. Also the results so far of the surveys.

2. Documentation of the underlying route trajectory options being evaluated and which are behind the choice of environmental survey sites. We are told that there are no route trajectory options yet. If this is the case, please send the justification for a more blanket approach to these surveys and explain why the surveys we are aware of are all in a straight line from Little Eversden, Harlton, south of Haslingfield and Harston – see

3. A copy of any communications between East West Rail and the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory or related organizations such as the Cavendish Astrophysics Group or the Institute of Astronomy or any organisation you are involved with discussion around planning constraints in relation to EWR and the Mullard Radio Observatory

4. Communication between EWR Rail and landowners in the option E area.

5. Any documentation or communications held about the Eversden and Wimpole Woods is a SAC (European designation – Special Area of Conservation) for Barbastelles bats.

6. Any documentation or communications on environmental, archeological or historical constraints in the Option E area.

7. A log of previous FOI requests and their contents (We already aware of 5 FOI requests from CamBedRailRoad)

We expect to get a response in 20 days so 26th August. If we get anything interesting we will publish it on this web site.


Formation of the Cambridge Approaches Group

The ISS Flies over The Bakehouse in Well-house Meadow

After the decision by East West Rail (EWR) to focus their attention on option E for the central section of their new railway, it became clear that awareness of the issue was very low in the affected area. The planned consultation meetings from EWR never happened and are still not scheduled. Some residents became aware of the issue when they were approached by EWR’s agent Ardent and asked for access to their property, so that surveys could be performed.

This group was formed after a meeting on 15th July 2020 between representatives of parish councils in the affected area from Toft to the Shelfords and the intention is to generate our own options for the possible routes of the railway and to discuss these with the community and the powers that be. The hope if to get a more open dialogue and a better outcome for all concerned.