Business Case

EWR: What is it Actually for?

EWR Under Construction September 2022 on existing route of old varsity line at the point where it crosses over HS2. There needs to be a very good reason to do this and more to South Cambs and the residents needs to know what that is.

In a recent meeting with our local MP, Anthony Browne we were left with the impression that the government of Boris Johnson was heading for cancellation of EWR CS3. But now there is a new government with a completely new set of ministers – what will they make of it?

EWR: Competition with Road

Here’s the thing. If you have a car and you want to get from Bedford to Cambridge would an East West Rail link get you out of your car and onto the train? Grant Shapps said recently in relation to the A428 improvements “only a small proportion of the proposed development’s traffic would reassign to the East West Rail scheme”. 

Mr Shapps is sceptical. Let me help you decide.

Would it be quicker? NO (see here)

Would it be cheaper? NO (see here)

Would it be more environmentally friendly? NO see below and here.

Have they published a business case? NO (but we have asked)

Have they published a full forecast of passenger numbers? NO (but only 18,000/year from Oxford to Cambridge/less than one per train, see §4.11 on this link).

The recent output from the EWRMLP here (1)  and here (2) do not address any of these issues. But they do contain some wonderful word salad. Here is my favourite piece from (1)

“With two thirds of the most powerful businesses of the future yet to be created, we need to ensure the UK is ready to create and scale the fast growth businesses of the future.”

Gosh, that’s deep. I mean how long a future does mankind have?

Steer, the authors of (2) have completely avoided the question of competition with road including time spent waiting for the next train and the first and last mile. That’s odd since it was the main point of the Network Rail EWR Strategic Statement published in March 2022. This illustrates the problem of paying consultants to provide evidence for decisions when you have already made up your mind. Not a great use of our public money that.

And so the Boondoggle that is EWR Co. rolls on.

EWR: The Growth Catalyst

In a recent article in the Cambridge Independent, EWRCo. explained that their railway will actually be a catalyst for economic growth. They obliquely refer to the OxCam Arc’s £163 billion transformational scenario contained in the NIC Partnering for Prosperity report. You know, the one with the million new houses by 2050? It has to be an oblique reference because Michael Gove cancelled the Arc back in February. However, popular though it wasn’t, rumours are now floating about that “the Arc will return” see for example here.

I find it hard to picture what an increase of £163billion in gross value added (GVA) looks like. For reference, GVA of Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) is around £1billion. I know what that looks like and can imagine the houses of the 20 thousand or so people who work there. The construction of 163 of those would be a tsunami of concrete across the area between Oxford and Cambridge (hence the green credentials of a railway who’s business case depends on that are suspect). No doubt EWRCo. would say that is out of scope for them. Perhaps an expert from Friends of the Cam could tell us what 163 CBCs would do to the river Cam.

A key point from the NIC report is that the “agglomeration factor” for the sprawling Arc is low compared with say, a city. That means the Arc, if constructed, would in the main just be moving around two million people from one place to another without really adding value. It would however emit a lot of CO2 in the process. See Prof. Roger’s more detailed explanation of this here. It would also be good for the construction industry and those that deal in property.

Whatever you feel about the OxCam Arc there is still the question of the mechanism by which completing the EWR, on its own, will trigger such massive growth over the period between now and 2050 (about 80% in the OxCam Arc compared with 16% nationally). “Partnering for Prosperity” proposed a lot more than just building the railway – there would be spatial framework, development corporations, expressway, local transport schemes etc. Not just a railway.

What we see from proponents of the railway are interviews with a few no doubt heavily prompted business leaders supporting EWR. First among these is AstraZeneca. AZ have built a large lab at the CBC and really just need the Cambridge South station to be built in order to get people to work. They are already committed to the area. The question for AZ and any of these businesses or potential investors is this. What more would you commit to invest in the area if EWR was built? So far, I have seen zero evidence of this linkage. Does infrastructure of marginal use attract investment? Even if it does, would we not be better finding some really useful infrastructure to build?

Which brings us back to the fundamental point. If EWR does not attract many passengers, why will it attract investment to the region?

Intercity vs Local Commute

EWR Co. have said themselves that most of the market for their railway will be from people commuting to the nearest city. That’s why we see local politicians trying to solve that problem with busses and local light rail schemes. They at least have an idea of the problem that needs to be solved. But even though EWR Co. call their railway a commuter line, it’s actually a fast, inter-city link but without any large cities on the route. 

Costs (they keep going up)

The Department for Transport recently responded to a freedom of information request and gave some new capital cost information for the currently favoured route into Cambridge (Amazing, I know). Aside from inflation increases there is a new line item of £499.6million for 4-tracking from Great Shelford into Cambridge station taking the total capital cost to just under £4.3 billion. In the previous round of costings, it seems that they assumed the Cambridge South station project would pay for that work.

Ouch. You could build a medium sized hospital for £500 million.

Then there is the cost of mitigating the Great Wall. If they do something how much more will that cost?

Vanity Project

Well that’s a tour of some of the issues with EWR CS3. Unless they come up with some better answers / evidence it really ought to be consigned to the dustbin.

However, sometimes projects go ahead even though they don’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps so that our new leader can say that she has delivered. I hope she is more thoughtful than that.

12 replies on “EWR: What is it Actually for?”

The Prime Minister appears to be in favour of EWR, maybe she could come to the drop in event to hear from those attending. (If she is still PM!)

Will our MP Anthony Browne be there? He certainly should come. Also the leader of SCambs District Council and Pippa Heywood, who posted that survey to people a couple of weeks ago and who told us that she would be our next MP. However, no mention on the first page of the survey as to whether or not EWR was in her sights. Nor were we asked to comment on it in the survey. She needs to let us know her views on EWR.

EWR is all about freight, large diesel trains transporting goods from China, or waste to the new incinerator at Marston. In other words we are being conned.

You are absolutely right in saying that EWR is all about freight. All the waffle about spurious advantages for passengers is a sop. I totally agree that freight should be transported by rail rather than road as much as possible. However, much as I detest the idea of freight trains running close to residential areas through the night (to allow for passenger trains during the day), much worse is what the construction of extra lines and
the noise factor will do to Cambridge. Why does freight need to go through the city on or close to Coldham’s Common? A better solution would be for the freight to detour round to Cambridge North station. Many people have asked why the engines have to be diesel powered. The answer is there is no alternative at present because the trains will be very long and require powerful engines. Have I missed something here? Freight hasn’t been mentioned very much.

I noticed our new PM was in favour of EWR! Is she just being contrary?
I don’t think there’s any money for such an unnecessary project which has not been thought through properly!

It’s clear that there is no business case for EWR yet a government that’s prepared to cash the pound may still give this white elephant the go ahead. The total lack of EWR, Goverment, our Councils, Chamber of Commerce showing it’s value says it all. Stop wasting money and cancel this white elephant project and invest in the North

Where will the new Cambridge goods yard and it support services such
as new roads be. Can we see this proposal and the projected goods traffic that is supposed to feed it?.
Why would anyone pour huge amounts of money into a project
that will hemorrhage money forever and benefit few?.
Is this the type of government we really need at this time?.

South Cambs DC are in favour of this white elephant. Why? It has no business justification and the proposed construction is a monstrosity.

Another very good article, thank you.
Good points in the replies too. What can we do to challenge SC Cambs position on this and the prospective lib dem candidate.
What about approaching the Labour party / shadow minister as they will probably be in power before long?
On a wider point I think the resources will be better spent – and hopefully reallocated – on EW in the north from an economic and political view.

The Government’s Growth Plan talks about the importance of spending on infrastructure and lists a ragbag of transport and BEIS projects. It says nothing about another critical piece of infrastructure – hospitals. There is a manifesto commitment out there “by the end
of the Parliament… to have begun work
on building 40 new hospitals across the country, as well as investing in hospital upgrades”. What has happened to this?
By contrast, there is no express commitment on East West Rail, merely to “invest in improving train lines to…East Anglia”. The currently defunct Ely Area improvements (supported by the Prime Minister and Lucy Fraser KC, who is now at the DfT) would fit that description and have a far better BCR than EWR. Cambridge South station (fingers crossed that it will be improved soon) and signalling improvement projects (desperately needed to improve journey times to Stansted from London) would also do so, as would making places such as Soham, Manea and March practical commuter destinations for working in Cambridge. And don’t get me started on the fact that it doesn’t make sense to catch a train from Shelford station to Stansted or that Cambridge to Peterborough is not competitive with a car journey. Or that Sawston (population 7,000 and new home of Cambridge City Football Club) and Haverhill (population around 27,000) have no railway connections at all and if EWR was built with a southern approach it might well rule out reviving the old Haverhill line.

I’ve shared this and details of the demo at the EWR drop-in in haslingfield tomorrow 12 Oct on my FB page and elsewhere. As a result Louise Bacon, top local ecologist, also hopes to join us there

Great article William. Went armed with a lot of this information this evening. Unfortunately the quality of EWR attendee could not answer any questions regarding Shepreth Branch, avoided freight questions from a very concerned Little Shelford resident who lives Hauxton side of line, avoided questions about closure of the level crossing in L Shelford, and had no idea what the technical report said regarding the planned number of return journeys from Oxford to Cambridge. More ineptitude from EWR I am afraid, no real questions answered, and still no publication of responses to non-stat consultation. What are they hiding?

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