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.

5 replies on “More Q&A with the EWR Co. (mostly about Freight)”

What freight originates in either Oxford or Cambridge —None.
So this suggests freight originating from who knows where and an enormous supporting infrastructure. Really its not just an innocuous
rail line anymore. Is it.

With a container port a few miles east of Ipswich, it seems glaringly obvious that, eventually, there will be a lot of container traffic using rail which presently goes on the A14 to the west.

In relation to the Q&A on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and EWR’s statement that this does not apply, this is confirmed by someone I know with past professional experience on this policy area.

He informs me that SEA generally applies to plans and programmes rather than projects (and EWR is a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project – NSIP). The problem in the EWR case is that there isn’t a strategy or plan to apply SEA to, certainly not a spatial one.

The relevant policy document is the National Networks National Policy Statement, but the Government always refused to carry out SEA of the NPSs, preferring instead to invent its own version, namely an Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS). In any event the AoS won’t be helpful because the NPS is not spatial, and certainly doesn’t go down to the level of detail of route options for something like EWR. The UK Government (in contrast to Scotland) has always been reluctant to use SEA, and the same issue arose on the Oxford-MK Expressway. The local Wildlife Trust took the Government to the High Court on that one over the lack of SEA but lost.

So while my informant says he thinks EWR is correct on the SEA point, he adds that it would have been good practice to do an SEA/EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) of the route options. He presumes they did do some kind of appraisal of the route options, otherwise they would have had nothing to present in the 2019 public consultation, but the issue is probably the rigour and extent of what they did.

The final paragraph of EWR’s response to the SEA question amounts to saying they will required to do an EIA of the chosen route and present the Environmental Statement as part of the NSIP process, involving public consultation. This would need to include consideration of alternative options – the problem will be that, by that stage. options have been closed down and the discarded options may not be examined in as much detail.

My informant adds the caveat that his comments are to the best of his recollection and have not been checked with anyone, so should be treated with caution.

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