New Route for Freight Should Be Considered

CA’s Steve Edmondson wrote this letter published in the Cambridge Independent in December 2020. The text is copied below.

The new East-West Rail Link between Oxford and Ipswich is being planned to pass through Cambridge.

Whilst the extra trains, about 6 per hour, will offer better choice for passengers, the 20 or so freight trains are less welcome.

These freight trains originate at the port of Felixstowe which is expanding steadily. They currently follow two routes, either via Ely and Peterborough to the Midlands and north or via Chelmsford and north London to the West and South of England. Both routes are congested and the coming East-West rail link will offer a convenient third option.

The proposed route approaches Cambridge from the south and leaves via the single track line towards Newmarket via the sharp curve at Coldham’s common junction.

It is expected that the track will be dualled as far as Fulbourn, through Cherry Hinton so that freight trains can wait for a suitable gap to pass through the congested Cambridge Central station.

The East West Rail link is being built to a standard suitable for freight trains, so we can expect it to be fully used. Indeed all official forecasts show this to be the case.

There has been little sign that the designers and builders of the new railway have considered the alternative route to the north of Cambridge.

This northern approach could offer less disruption from these half-mile long, diesel hauled trains. Even more appropriate would be a full bypass line for freight trains avoiding the need for any to pass through the city.

Steve Edmondson, Cambridge Approaches Action Group, Cantelupe Road, Haslingfield.


CBRR Presentation and Petition

Here is a recording of CBRR’s presentation to the Eversdens on the 17th November 2020. Similar presentations have been given to other local villages most recently to the Shelfords on the 18th December 2020 where local MP Anthony Browne was also present.

Sebastian Kindersley of CBRR makes compelling arguments for a northern approach to Cambridge for the Central Section of the East West Railway.

Sadly, EWR Co. are not currently planning any consultation on approaches to Cambridge north and south. They never have.

However, Anthony Browne reported on Friday’s Shelford meeting that EWR Co. are planning a one year back-check of a northern approach, presumably in parallel with a further consultation about Option E detailed route alignments.

In response to questioning on Friday Mr Browne agreed that this position from EWR Co. does not make sense. He’s right, it’s crazy.

This is an audio recording of the exchange between Anthony Browne, Sebastian Kindersley and a resident of Gt Shelford on the subject of the back-check of the northern approach. We understand that Gt Shelford Parish Council will upload the full recording of the meeting in due course.

Please listen to the presentation and the audio recording and if you also want an open consultation on the right approach to Cambridge do sign the CBRR petition (and get your friends and family to do so as well) – all UK taxpayers will be funding this project after all and we need a say.


Webinar: Night Freight Trains Through Cambridge? – 19th December 2020

Freight Train Carrying Nuclear Waste Flasks. See UK Nuclear Waste Rail Routes here. Freight will move from North London Line to the EWR Link.

Cambridge Approaches will be presenting a webinar to the Mill Road community in Cambridge (but open to all) on the subject of the likely increase in rail freight traffic through Cambridge as a result of the completion of the East West Rail link Central Section, together with some ideas about how this can be mitigated. The webinar will also be of interest to people living east of Cambridge along the single track line to Newmarket and those in the option E area.

For more background information see this post on the Mill Road Bridges web site, and our previous post on this web site.

The webinar will be held at 5pm on Saturday 19th December 2020.

Register in advance for this meeting using this link.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


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


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.

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.


Cambridge Approaches Working Group Current Objectives

These posters are starting to appear in the Option E area, get in touch if you want one.

It’s been a while since we reviewed the Cambridge Approaches objectives so we felt it was time for an update – here it is.

If there is a case for the East West Railway, we support the route going through a new Cambourne North Station rather than Cambourne South and will continue to make the case for that with stakeholders. In this we are supporting our local MP, the Mayor of the Combined Authority and members of the Local District Council. We call on EWR not to ignore the combined weight of this opinion and the voice of the parishes. 

Whichever stops are chosen for the railway, we believe that EWR should consult on the variety of options that it could take through Cambourne North; especially as this is a new location not previously considered or discussed.

Until we have further facts, we remain to be convinced about the case for the East West Railway so the consultation needs to cover all the unresolved issues. For example, the business case is poor and not clearly justified; there is no alignment with the local plan from SCDC and other local authorities; it does not make enough use of multi-modal corridors; it may affect our food security; it causes unnecessary environmental damage and planning blight dividing communities in the process. 

We are conscious that some very important decisions were made before the first consultation (now some two years ago) on the need for the railway and its approach to Cambridge and these have not been properly justified or back checked.  In particular the co-ordination with other transport initiatives such as the Metro to meet commuter demand is not evident; there is little mention of freight – indeed the story of freight resembles that of Schrodinger’s cat. We will continue to research and question EWR Co. and others on these and any other significant points that arise.

Cambridge Approaches continues to make local people aware of the impending threat to the Option E area and to seek means to reduce or ideally eliminate the impact of the railway on residents and the environment. There is no ideal answer, so we will not elaborate further on alternative route options nor will we try to broker compromises between affected parties – that is EWR Co.’s job and for them to justify the route chosen. However, we will advise on facts if you have a specific question. 

Cambridge Approaches Working Group October 2020