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Network Rail EWML Strategic Statement

Network Rail recently published an East West Mainline Strategic Statement.

In it they compared the journey times from two sizeable cities on the line: Milton Keynes and Bedford; to a variety of other locations in a band from East Anglia to Cardiff and Southampton 

a) by rail currently (mainly via London) 

b) by rail after the Oxford to Cambridge railway has been completed (Configuration State 3)

c) by car at peak time.

They use a concept called Generalised Journey Time (GJT) which allows time for changing trains and the average time to wait for the next train. GJT does not allow any time for getting to and from the station or sorting out a place to park the car and to get a bus/taxi etc at the far end. That’s fine if you happen to live near a station and want to go somewhere else that happens to be near one. This is far from being always the case and I would estimate that on the average we should add around at least 15 minutes at each end for this. Travelling by car is a really tough competitor to rail as the data shows, especially in towns where local transport is not up to London standards – and that’s most of them.

Figure 8 Generalised Journey Times from Milton Keynes: Source Network Rail
Figure 11 Generalised Journey Times from Bedford: Source Network Rail

The bar charts show the GJT after the EWR has been built from Oxford to Cambridge (blue); the reduction in GJT from before the EWR was built(orange); the transit time by car in peak times (grey) taken from Google maps and the difference (yellow). A negative difference means that the EWR is quicker than going by car, but as previously stated this takes no account of the time to get to the stations at each end of the journey. So many of the differences are in favour of the car. Cars are really tough to beat – or looking at it another way, our towns and villages are built around the car.

Network Rail make the case that where EWR might show bigger advantages over road (and rail going via London) would be on longer trips where the speed of the railway starts to overcome the overheads to get on it in the first place. However, EWRCo.’s current proposed service schedule does not include long distance services, you have to change trains to get on the EWR and change to get off it again. In many cases, these two changes wipe out the benefit compared to going via London. Network Rail recommend provision for significant extra infrastructure at Oxford and Cambridge to facilitate these long-distance through services.

This all seems desperately fundamental to the unpublished business case for the EWR.

Incidentally, Network Rail also re-state their ambition to have 50 freight trains per day on the EWR and as we have previously remarked this has not really featured in the EWR Co. design for the route although it does loom large in my imagination.

Recently, EWR Co. seem to be heading the other way and portraying the EWR as more of a local commuter solution for example in the press release associated with the appointment of their new CEO Beth West.

The new East West Rail line currently under construction, promises new, much needed connections for communities between Oxford and Cambridge including Bedford, Milton Keynes, Bletchley and Bicester. The line will provide reliable public transport in the area – the lack of which is holding people back from enjoying their region, restricts access to good jobs and has created bubbles of inaccessible, expensive housing.”

If it has moved from a fast Oxford to Cambridge intercity service for scientists and business people creating new break through vaccines, to a local commuter solution, why have there been no changes to the actual proposals or the requirements from the sponsor (presumably the new rail minister)? I think this is more about presentation than substance. It’s still an intercity service.

I will be talking more about the EWR business case along with Professor David Rogers talking about the OxCam Arc at this event hosted by the Stop The Arc Group on Thursday 21st April at 7.30pm on zoom. Register on Eventbrite to attend.

7 replies on “Network Rail EWML Strategic Statement”

The use of the current Google maps data for journey times overlooks the fact that there is a highways scheme currently in DCO process which will, I quote from its home page “improve journeys between Milton Keynes and Cambridge, bringing communities together and supporting long term growth in the region”. It will also improve journey times between Cambridge and Bedford because you drive past Bedford to get to Milton Keynes. The scheme? The A428 improvement scheme which will “upgrade the route between the Black Cat roundabout and Caxton Gibbet roundabout with a new 10-mile dual carriageway and a number of junction improvements”. So not only will this scheme likely remove EWR’s advantage over peak road from Milton Keynes, it will also potentially widen the gap between EWR and road from Bedford.
For someone travelling from Bedford or indeed St Neots to north Cambridge or, say, Newmarket or Ely, a southern approach for EWR will make the rail comparison very unattractive. I wonder why Network Rail hasn’t looked beyond Cambridge?
I also don’t understand the Bedford to Luton improvement. Don’t they already have a direct rail link?

Good point about the A428 improvements. I think the Network Rail data is saying that the Luton to Bedford link is already faster than by road and there is no improvement from the EWR.

My error – Network Rail does include journey times to Ipswich and Norwich, where rail will continue to perform very badly against road, even with EWR. My point above about the A428 improvement scheme applies equally to these journeys. There is one direct train per hour from Cambridge to each of these places, according to one of the studies underlying the current draft Local Plan. There is one direct train every two hours from Ely to Ipswich and two per hour from Ely to Norwich (source National Rail timetables). Routing through Cambridge City for passenger services to these places is not obviously a good idea and for freight (50 trains per day) it is a terrible one, especially at night. Cambridge City residents please wake up to this issue, before it is too late.

More excellent work and thought leadership from the Cambridge Approaches team. Thank you.
I would strongly agree that if there is any business case for the line it will be around local commuting – so routing via the North picking up Northstowe surely makes much more sense?

Comparative journey times – based upon whatever rather dubious premises – are totally irrelevant if you can’t afford the ridiculous cost of traveling by rail.

….or the considerable cost of parking at a railway station if not within walking or cycling distance

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