Route Alignments

A Comparison of Option E and CBRR Part 2 : Residential & Environmental Impact

One of a Large New Batch of Posters in The Eversdens

In this post we continue the comparison between a southern Option E route and the route proposed by CBRR. In our earlier post we compared route length (as recapped in Figure 1) and capital cost, in this post we focus more on residential and environmental impact.

Figure 1 Diagram of Routes from Cambourne North (A) to Coldham’s Common (B)

As before, in considering a train transiting the Cambridge area from Cambourne to Chippenham junction near Newmarket on the newly rebranded East West Main Line, the route from point A to point B represents a fair comparison between the CBRR and Option E for through routes.

Road Crossings and Impact on Residential Areas

One of EWR Co.’s  Environmental Principles is as follows: “Respecting our Neighbours: effectively managing and controlling noise vibration and pollution to avoid affecting your health or quality of life.”

Rather than mitigate after building the railway, it has to be better to avoid the problem in the first place. Let’s have a look at how the CBRR route might help EWR Co. get closer to their objective in that way.

As before, we consider two routes from Cambourne North (A) to Coldham’s Common (B) as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Diagram of Southern Option E and CBRR Routes (N is Northstowe Station)

For comparison purposes, the EWR Option E scenario shown in Figure 2 has been taken as a route from the north of Cambourne, crossing the A428 to join the Option E area between Toft and Comberton and then to the north of Harlton, south of Haslingfield and Harston to then run parallel to the existing King’s Cross line into Cambridge. All existing bridges running parallel to the King’s Cross line and in Cambridge are assumed to require widening as it’s unlikely that there is sufficient capacity as these tracks are already extremely busy. The widening works may be carried out as part of the EWR Co. project or at a later stage by Network Rail: either way the taxpayer will fund the work.

*** Once again, we have to say that this example Southern Option E route shown in Figure 2 in red is not endorsed by CA ***

However, there are many publicly reported survey locations and evidence from local councillors that EWR Co. are looking at it. It is a combination of our previous alternatives 7 and 4.

RouteMotorway CrossingsA Road CrossingsB Road Crossings
Southern Option E1615
Option E – CBRR048
Table 1 Comparison of No. of Road Crossings

Counting the number of road crossings on new and existing track helps to compare construction costs of two otherwise similar routes. But given the nationally mandated policy of no new level crossings and EWR Co.’s policy of case by case decisions on re-instating access, it is also an indication of the level of disruption that will be caused by the new railway. If access is restored, we would have to live with the new earthworks and bridges: if it is not restored we would have to live with a divided community.

The results are shown in Table 1 and include existing parts of the track which may need to be widened, either at the time of construction or afterwards and either paid for as part of the EWR Co. project or by Network rail, but either way fundamentally by the taxpayer. Since the existing twin tracks south of Cambridge are currently much busier than the twin tracks north of Cambridge, work to improve tracks to the south is much more likely to be required.

Table 1 shows that the number of both A and B roads crossed is significantly lower for the CBRR route than for the southern Option E route. Because of the lack of track capacity to the south of Cambridge as mentioned above, road bridges over Long Road, Hills Road, Mill Road and Coldham’s Lane in Cambridge may well need to be modified. Given that most of these roads are already congested, such works would be exceptionally disruptive, far more so than bridges further out of Cambridge. Even if these four bridges did not require modifications, the number of Option E road crossings affected would still be greater than the CBRR route.

Ignoring those towns and villages that will have a station in the two scenarios (Cambourne, Northstowe, Cambridge North and Cambridge South), Table 2 shows the number of such settlements closely passed by the railway (within 500m). Again, the CBRR route wins out by a big margin. For the many thousands of people living in those villages, this not a small point as local politicians and EWR Co. should now be fully aware.

 Southern Option ECBRR
Villages within 500m of railwayCaldecote, Toft, Comberton, Little Eversden, Harlton, Haslingfield, Harston, Hauxton, Little Shelford, Great ShelfordOakington*, Milton, Caldecote**, Dry Drayton
Table 2 Number of Villages within 500m of EWR CS Cambourne North (A) to Cambridge

*Oakington would benefit from the CBRR Northstowe Station

** Caldecote is less affected by CBRR on the far side of the A428 than our southern Option E example.

Along similar lines, we looked at the built-up areas in Cambridge through which the railway runs. See table 3 below – again much less impact for CBRR.

 Option ECBRR
Cambridge Residential areas within 500mColdhams La.  area, Petersfield, Romsey, Mill Road, Hills Road area, Long Road, Queen Edith’s, TrumpingtonCambridge North Station area. Coldhams La. area
Length of Railway through built up areas in Cambridge (km)71.5
Table 3 Assessment of the Impact on Residential Cambridge

Lastly, we counted the number of properties within 200m of each railway option from A to B and the results are shown in Table 4 below. These figures are a comparative measure in noise and air pollution between the southern and northern options.

 Option ECBRR
No. of properties within
200m of railway (approx.)
Table 4 Number of Properties Impacted Cambourne North (A) to Coldham’s Common (B)

Once again, the CBRR route has far less residential impact both in Cambridge and in the villages.  Assuming 2.5 people per property around 6310 more people will be disturbed by a southern route than the CBRR one.

A northern approach also provides opportunities for freight to bypass Cambridge entirely in the future. 

Environmental Impact

As we remarked above, EWR Co. want to minimise the environmental impact of their new railway, but they seem to be thinking about mitigating the effect of the railway after construction rather than minimising the damage in the first place. Of course, this EWR Co. approach means they can decide where they want to put the railway unconstrained by environmental considerations and they can then make a show of patching it up afterwards.

EWR Co. have not performed an area wide Strategic Environmental Assessment, we assume for cost reasons. This means that they have to dance around the SEA Directive 2001/42/EC Articles 2 and 3, and it’s adoption in the UK and to be very careful about the terms plan and programme to which the SEA directive applies. Clearly, given that they maintain that they don’t need to perform an SEA, they can’t be doing a plan or programme. Someone needs to tell the EWR Co. HR department not to be recruiting for the Programme Sponsor roles as they don’t have a programme!

However, EWR Co. have made a statement about the relative environmental impact of CBRR vs Option E in §16 of their Option Report as follows:

Extract from EWR Co. Route Option Report January 2020

$§16.32-33 say that they have done an assessment of the CBRR route and found some issues – as usual very little detail or concrete evidence has been provided. §16.34 is the real problem though. Without a quantitative comparison of these CBRR issues with Option E how can they possibly conclude that more effort will be required to mitigate these effects than for Option E?

Wildlife Trust Assessment

Fortunately, the Wildlife Trust have performed a detailed comparison of Option E and the CBRR route and have kindly shared the details of their very thorough analysis with Cambridge Approaches. In this post we just present a summary of their findings between Cambourne and Cambridge.

Option E is a route area whose width varies from a few hundred metres to over 4km.  The CBRR route is closer to a route alignment, but allowance has been made for that by widening the corridor around the CBRR route to include a 1km buffer on either side. The Wildlife Trust have listed the sites affected along Option E and the CBRR route. If there is interest, we can seek permission from the Wildlife Trust to share their maps.

We have counted the number of sites between Cambourne and Cambridge and the results are set out in Table 4 as follows: 

SitesOption ECBRR + 2km Buffer
Wildlife Trust31
County Wildlife74
Scheduled Ancient Monument104
Table 4 Comparison of Environmental Sites Impacted CBRR vs Option E: Cambourne to Cambridge.

The CBRR route has considerably less impact between Cambourne and Cambridge than Option E. It seems that §16.34 of the option report may be wrong (to say the least).

This is our interpretation of the detailed study

This letter from the Wildlife Trust presents their interpretation as follows:

“all of the route options into Cambridge South are far worse than the route option into Cambridge North, which has been excluded from the consultation”.

The question is who knows more about the local environment – the Wildlife Trust or an internal study in EWR Co. that does not refer to evidence? 


Between Cambourne and Cambridge we have shown evidence that the CBRR proposal is hugely less damaging to residents both in Cambridge and in the approaches to Cambridge. The same is true of the impact on wildlife sites and ancient monuments as shown by the Wildlife Trust Study.

We have previously demonstrated that the route from the new Cambourne North station to Coldham’s common is shorter (and CBRR have discussed even shorter options with us that preserve the benefits). There are serious unanswered questions about the claimed cost benefits of the Option E route over CBRR to which we can now add the question of additional road crossings.

EWR Co. say they are back-checking the northern route to Cambridge in parallel with a detailed consultation of route alignments in the option E area. Here in CA we do not think this makes sense. If this post castes doubt in your mind that about the right approach to Cambridge and you would like to see a more open consultation including northern approaches, consider signing this petition.

Questions for EWR Co.

  1. Do you agree that avoiding environmental problems in the first place is better than mitigating them afterwards? If so, please can you add this to your environmental principles?
  2. Do you agree that minimising the number of road crossings and the residential areas affected is desirable?
  3. After looking at our analysis and the maps do you agree that the CBRR route is better than Option E in terms of road crossings?
  4. Do you agree that a Cambourne North station (outside the option E area) makes the Northern Approach more attractive e.g. since it becomes unnecessary to cross the A428 expressway east of Cambourne?
  5. Please can you explain your conclusion in §16.34 of the Option report? You have not published a quantitative comparison of the environmental impact of Option E vs CBRR, so the conclusion in §16.34 does not make logical sense. If you do have such a comparison, please can you share it with us? 
  6. Do you have evidence to contradict the assessment of the Wildlife Trust that the northern route into Cambridge from Cambourne is far better from a Wildlife and Ancient monument site perspective?
  7. We have now provided new evidence on all 5 of your key assessment criteria that favour the CBRR route over option E. Will you now commit to an open consultation on routes into Cambridge North and South?

William Harrold and David Revell.

Route Alignments

A Comparison of Option E and CBRR Part 1 : Length and Capital Cost

Cambridge North Station

In this post we discuss just two of the parameters for a comparison: route length and capital cost. We conclude that the CBRR route is shorter and arguably has a lower capital cost than Option E. We end with some more questions for EWR Co.

This is actually good news. There is potentially a better option available for Cambridge, we just need EWR Co. to look at it again.

The references below set out some of the discussion so far on this topic.

The exact route alignment in the Option E area is still fluid at the moment and in order to make a comparison with the CBRR route, we need to make some assumptions:

  1. There is a station to the north of Cambourne near the junction with the A428, this has widespread support in the area and should facilitate the development of Cambourne, EWR Co. say they are looking at this.
  2. The option E route tries to maximise re-use of existing track and hence joins the Cambridge (or King’s Cross) line just south of Harston.
  3. The EWR Eastern Section connects to Cambridge via the single-track line to Newmarket at Coldhams Common

The routes are shown diagrammatically in figure 1

Figure 1 Diagram of CBRR and Southern Option E Route. Overall distances are measured from point A to point B.

Drawing out both these routes on a detailed map has allowed us to measure the distances shown in Figure 1.

CBRR Route is Shorter than Option E

Figure 2 Track Lengths between points A and B in Figure 1

We can see from the total distances in Figure 2 that the CBRR route is shorter than option E overall by 2.3km. This means that the transit time through Cambridge from west to east (or vice versa will likely be less than for option E. 

CBRR reached a similar conclusion comparing the 24km from Cambourne South to Cambridge South with the 23 km from Cambourne North to Cambridge North.

EWR Co. state that improved journey times are an important consideration. CBRR is better than option E in that respect.

Is CBRR Actually Cheaper than Option E?

Capital Costs £BnTechnical Report 2010 PricesOption Report 2010 Prices2019 Prices
CBRR 4.5
Route B2.23.43.9
Route E2.83.2?5.0
Table 1 Capital Cost Comparisons
Figure 3 Option B and CBRR taken from the Option Report

As pointed out in our earlier post about unexplained cost increases, route B had a much lower capital cost than route E at the time of the consultation, but the situation changed in the option report without much explanation. EWR Co. have so far declined to answer our questions about this huge change. 

Route B approaches Bedford from the north while Route E goes through a Bedford South station (Wixams). Their approach to Cambridge is the same. It seems sometime between the consultation and the option E decision, EWR Co. decided that approaching Bedford from the north was cheaper than from the south. We cannot accept this change without further explanation.

EWR Co. claim that CBRR is £0.6Bn more expensive than option B in 2019 prices. 

CBRR point out that if you take the cost ratios in the 2019 Technical Report we see that Route E’s capex is 27% (2.8/2.2) higher than Route B. Applying this 27% increase to the £3.9Bn given for option B would lead to an option E capex of £5.0Bn.  See Table 1 for the numbers.

It seems that option E is more expensive than CBRR using EWR Co.’s own figures given at the time of the consultation. As pointed out before, the mystery is why the ratio of Option B and E capex costs changed so much in the option report.

EWR Co. go on the say that comparing CBRR with option B is similar to comparing it with option E (option Report §16.30) There is a £200m capex difference even with their own figures in the Option Report and £600m capex difference in the Technical Report. Not small differences.

As previously noted, Route B and Route E are different at the Bedford end of the link. To compare apples with apples we really need to see what is happening between Cambourne and Cambridge. As EWRCo. have indicated, we can do this by comparing CBRR with option B, since they are the same at the Bedford end.

Cambourne to Cambridge Costs

EWR Co.’s Option Report states in $16.29 that the CBRR route will cost £600M more than some unspecified option B route in 2019 prices

Where could this £600M come from?

Figure 2 indicates that there is 3.3km of additional new track with the CBRR route compared with our assumed Option B/E route. 

If we take the approximately 50km route from Bedford to Cambridge and divide that into the £3.4Bn estimated capital cost for option B we find a cost of £ 68 Million /km in 2010 prices – this of course includes stations, road and river crossings etc.  It’s surprising that 3.3km of track could cost anything like £600M. Even £68M/km x 3.3km = £224.4M. That’s around £259.5M in 2019 prices.

These prices are all very high. In order to reduce noise CBRR proposed that the line be put in a sunken concrete trench. Have EWR Co. made allowance for that in their costings? If so it needs to be there for option E as well. We need an apples for apples comparison.

Part of this may be due to EWR Co. using a Cambourne South station for Option B/E rather than the Cambourne North one assumed here. However, as stated earlier, there is now a consensus that Cambourne North Station is the way to go. If so this analysis needs to be updated by EWR Co.

European Commission Report is the Taxpayer getting Value for Money?

While the Capex/km figures from EWR Co. do seem to be consistent with the much criticised HS2 costings, it is interesting to compare then with a survey of build costs around Europe published by the European Commission in 2017. In Figure 4 of this report we find that their model derived from actual builds gives a construction cost of 7.2MEuros/km for conventional track. Why are the costs here around 10 times as much? Is the taxpayer getting value for money?

The Imaginary Rowing Lake

In section §16.30 of their Option Report EWR Co. make allowance for the railway crossing a new rowing lake north of Cambridge. 

However, this rowing lake plan was abandoned and is therefore not an obstacle for the EWR link north of Cambridge. As a matter of fact, given that the news article is dated from the middle of 2018 and the EWR Co. option report is dated January 2020, this allowance was already out of date at the time that the option report was published.

Northstowe Station

The CBRR route has an additional station at Northstowe. This will form part of the additional cost for the CBRR route.  We know that the four tracked Cambridge South Station was estimated by Network Rail to cost £200m, but looking at this news article it seems reasonable to assume that a much simpler station at Northstowe should not cost more than £100m. A simple station at Harston was recently estimated to cost £20m, maybe that is a more appropriate figure.

Furthermore, as EWR Co. have said, they have not included any land value increase benefits around stations, (Option Report §15.16) which means that much of the potential benefit of Northstowe station is not included in the assessment. Such benefits can be very significant. The NIC report p.68 talks about a Milton Keynes case study with a tax of £18,500 per home for a new development. That would be £185M for the 10,000 homes mentioned in §16 of the Option Report. According to the same NIC report land values in the Cambridge area are twice what they are in Milton Keynes so this £185M is an under-estimate. 

The response to a recent FOI request to EWR Co. about land value increases, stated that they cannot share such information as it is commercially confidential. How can the public assess the value of various routes if even estimates of such information are kept confidential? In particular, as CBRR have pointed out and EWR Co. agree the land value increases for a northern approach to Cambridge will be higher than for the South. The difference is in the amount.

Are Upgrades to Existing Track Included?

Although they all only have two tracks at the moment, due to the high demand for commuter trains to London, the tracks south of Cambridge are much busier than those similar ones to the north. This is indicated in Figure 1 by the thicker lines on tracks south of Cambridge.

Looking at for the weekday busy hour timetable from Cambridge to King’s Cross we find 6 trains per hour (tph). We understand from EWR Co. that they want to start with a 4 tph service into Cambridge and to increase it to 6 tph if there is demand. As we have seen there is also a need to run freight trains, but we do not expect these to run during the passenger busy hour and so perhaps they will not affect capacity calculations.

It seems that the traffic into Cambridge from the south with the addition of the EWR link will likely double in terms of trains per hour. This will trigger the need to move from two tracks to four tracks certainly on the line from Gt. Shelford into Cambridge (according to EWR Co.) where there is also the traffic to Liverpool Street and maybe from Harston to Great Shelford as well. There may also be a need to replace level crossings e.g. in Great Shelford with some kind of road bridge.

The proposed upgrades around the Cambridge South station do not cover 4 tracking of much of the line.

So, the cost impact of the option B/E solution should include these improvements to the existing lines. Even if they are paid for by Network Rail rather than EWR Co. both are ultimately funded by the same taxpayers.


The CBRR route will be shorter than Option E. 

The CBRR route may well have a lower capex than Option E, especially when the full impact is considered.

The EWR Co. assessment of the CBRR route has some mistakes and several unanswered questions.

Question for EWR Co.

  1. Please can you acknowledge that a northern approach to Cambridge should lead to a shorter route to Cambridge from Cambourne North than a southern route?
  2. Do the costings for option E include any allowance for capacity upgrades to existing track required due to the additional EWR link traffic? If not why not?
  3. Do you agree that lines into the north of Cambridge are less busy than those into the south?
  4. Why did option B capex become higher than option E in the Option Report when this was far from the case in the technical report?
  5. What allowance was made for the rowing lake in the capital cost estimate for the CBRR route given in §16.30? Will you re-issue the comparison with this corrected?
  6. Please can you explain where the additional £600M for CBRR over Option B comes from?
  7. What assumption are you making for the cost of new track for capex/km?
  8. Why are the implied capital costs ten times as much as reported by this European Commission Report in Figure 4?
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.

Route Alignments

EWR’s Possible Rail Routes

What happens if we do nothing?

**** 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. ***

We have analysed potential routes that EWR could take within their Option E’ corridor and those are explored above. None of these options are favoured by Cambridge Approaches but does show what the impact on communities within the route alignment.

At the time of writing, these options are under review by local parish councils forming the Cambridge Approaches Oversight Group at a series of meetings including the Cambridge Approaches Working Group.

EWR’s options, which they intend to issue in Q1 in 2021, may differ from those shown.

We invite comments below.

You can download the map here.