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.

2 replies on “Freight Night: A Comedy Horror Show Coming Soon to Cambridge”

Freight Routes History

Instead of berating David Revell and William Harold about some clearly marked guesses and ideas for possible, not probable route options in Webinars, residents should take some responsibility for allowing this long saga to take place. I was staggered to hear yet again “I only just found out about this” and such like.

Way back the CHUMS decided, inter alia, to not have an upgraded freight route from Felixstowe to Nuneaton, instead installing guided busways on both mothballed rail routes into Cambridge.

Referring to my copies of the public enquiry documents I note that the inspector said he was aware of the plans for the East West Railway but he was persuaded that other routes would be found should the railway ever be built.

The East West Railway Consortium was in existence then as it is now, Cambridgeshire County Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council, were and are members of this “Consortium”, they even publish on their website a list of their “achievements” in the last few years. We are now suffering selected route option E to be built and run by East West Railway Company, while the consortium has washed its hands of, quite frankly, this bloody mess and moved on to long dated less contentious matters.

Well, we are now going to be on one of “the other routes”. Only a massive engagement with all parties above Parish level by everybody in all the villages will be able to stall this stupidity. You have been provided with all the information and contact details, will you now take the time to communicate your opinions on mass?

Cambridgeshire County Council and South Cambridgeshire District councils should be held responsible along our MP, Mayor and Grant Chaps at the Transport department and all left in no uncertain terms how we feel. There is just time still.

Cambridge Approaches have done a remarkable job in a few short months in difficult circumstances, David Revell you have been outstanding and an example to us all of what is possible, I just fear it has been in vain.

P.S. Eversdens – great web site jammed packed with useful info in the EWR Project page.

[…] All of us need to be aware of this looming threat. To make matters worse, it is all too clear that this will not be a ‘mere’ commuter line: it will be freight-capable. Once the Eastern Section of the East West Rail line is completed, we can expect it to be very heavily used to satisfy the huge demand for freight transport from the E…. […]

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