Categories
Business Case Route Alignments

Will EWR make it quicker to get out and about across the UK?

I am grateful again to Annabel Sykes for this guest post assessing recent claims from EWRCo. as they continue to their increasingly desperate search to find a compelling use for completing EWR to Cambridge.


I read the “where would you go?” article in EWRCo’s recent “Keeping you connected” newsletter and watched the accompanying video with interest.  There is also a section on EWRCo’s website, which includes the map below, recently reproduced in the Cambridge Independent.  The website says “EWR will have intersections with the UK’s key railway routes, meaning some of the nation’s most loved destinations would be within easier reach of local communities in Oxford, Bletchley, Bedford and Cambridge – offering more options and shorter journey times.”

I feel reasonably well-qualified to comment on how much substance there is to the ease and speed of travel claims EWRCo is making from Cambridge, as I live a short walk from Shelford station on the West Anglia Main Line (WAML) and my children are (or were) at Edinburgh and Bristol universities. We all like, and regularly use, trains.

EWRCo’s current proposals and journey times along EWR

The Route Update Report (“RUR”) proposes four trains per hour to Cambridge.  Two will originate in Bedford and two in Oxford.  From information in the RUR and accompanying Economic and Technical Report (“ETR”), respective station-to-station to journey lengths are expected to be 23 minutes (between Cambridge and Tempsford), 35 minutes (between Bedford and Cambridge) and 89 minutes (between Oxford and Cambridge).  

No journey time is given between Cambridge and Bletchley in these documents, but the 2021 Economic and Technical Report suggests that it will be approximately 60 minutes.   It may now be expected to be longer than this because the RUR says “we’re also suggesting capping the line speed [on the Marston Vale Line] below the 100mph originally proposed”. 

EWRCo tends to merge Bletchley and Milton Keynes when talking about journeys, although a person travelling from Cambridge and other places east of Bletchley will need to change trains at Bletchley to reach Milton Keynes Central. The journey time between the two stations is 5 minutes, making no allowance for changing platforms or waiting for a train.  There are currently four trains per hour between Bletchley and Milton Keynes Central.  This will presumably increase to six when the proposed two EWR trains per hour between Oxford and Milton Keynes Central are running.   By contrast, EWRCo seems to regard Cambridge North station as on a different planet from Cambridge station, even though there are five trains an hour between them and the journey time is 5 minutes.  

Where can I already get to by rail from Cambridge?

Anyone who lives in or near Cambridge is already lucky, because it is a city that is very well-connected by rail.  Looking at the EWRCo map, I can already catch a direct train from Cambridge to Ipswich, Norwich, King’s Lynn, Peterborough, Birmingham and Thameslink destinations such as Gatwick Airport and Brighton.  I can reach Birmingham International (for the airport) by changing at Birmingham New Street.

Peterborough gives me access to fast trains on the East Coast Mainline (“ECML”) to Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh (and, via Edinburgh, to Glasgow).  By contrast, Network Rail indicated in its East West Rail Main Line Strategic Statement (“the Strategic Statement”) that it was unlikely that ECML fast trains would stop at any new EWR station[1].   Network Rail also looked at the rail journey between Cambridge and Peterborough in the Strategic Statement using generalised journey times[2] and concluded that using EWR would add 21 minutes to the journey time between Cambridge and Peterborough.  This is despite the fact that the Strategic Statement also says “Rail connectivity … is …circuitous to Cambridge along the East Coast Main Line branch”[3].  From the perspective of a resident of Cambridge, EWR will not change the position as regards destinations on, or beyond, the ECML.

I can also catch a direct train from Peterborough to Nottingham and Sheffield.  Despite what the map reproduced above implies, there are no direct trains from Bedford to Nottingham or Sheffield.  It seems vanishingly unlikely that it will be quicker to travel from Cambridge via Bedford to these places, rather than via Peterborough.

As regards the journey to Birmingham, my rough estimates suggest that the journey time using EWR and changing at Bletchley (and possibly again at Milton Keynes Central) will be roughly the same length or likely slower once train changes and waits are taken into account.  It is possible that the journey to Birmingham International might be slightly faster via Bletchley, but it seems unlikely to be materially faster or more convenient.

If I take a train to Ely (a journey of roughly 18 minutes with a very regular service) I can catch a direct train to each of Manchester and Liverpool.  I accept that there is no direct train from Ely to Blackpool, Oxenholme, Carlisle or Glasgow but nor is there from Bletchley – as noted above, no direct Cambridge to Milton Keynes train is planned for EWR.  In any event, there are not many direct trains to these places from Milton Keynes.  There is also no direct train to Worcester or  Hereford, but I can get one from Birmingham to which (as noted above) I can travel directly from Cambridge.   It seems unlikely that a journey via Oxford to either place will be materially more convenient or quicker.

As regards Cardiff, Bath, Exeter and Penzance, even with EWR, it appears that each of these places would require two changes from Cambridge – there is no direct train from Oxford.  I think I will stick with WAML to  London Liverpool Street (or a Thameslink train to Farringdon), a short walk to the Elizabeth Line which goes directly to Paddington and a train from Paddington.  I simply don’t believe that travelling via Oxford will be measurably faster or more convenient.   This tallies with the conclusion that Network Rail reaches in the Strategic Statement.  Using generalised journey times, it concludes that journeys from Cambridge to Bristol and Cardiff will be slower on EWR (by 8 and 59 minutes respectively)[4].  

Cambridge to Watford might be slightly quicker via Bletchley than travelling into London and out again.  However, the proposed HERT (Herts Essex Rapid Transit), linking Hemel Hempstead to Harlow (and communities in between, including Hatfield), may prove a competitive alternative when combined with a rail journey to Hatfield.  In addition, neither seems likely to be particularly competitive with a direct journey by car. 

Airport journeys

EWR makes some claims about journeys to Gatwick, Birmingham, Luton and Stansted airports.  I have considered the position as regards travelling from Cambridge to Gatwick or Birmingham airports above.

Stansted airport is on the WAML.  I live close to a WAML station and about 30 minutes’ drive from the airport.  There are two direct Cambridge to Stansted airport services per hour, which are reasonably fast (around half an hour). However, they are at roughly 10 to the hour and 10 past, so I could have a long wait if I arrived in the 40 minute interval.  Neither train calls at Shelford station and only one of them calls at  the reasonably close alternative of Whittlesford Parkway.  The journey from Shelford station itself involves a change and takes around an hour.  As a result, I don’t generally travel to or from Stansted airport by train.  Perhaps this situation will improve when Cambridge South station opens, but I still think there are too few trains between Cambridge and Stansted airport for the service to be a useful one.  May be EWRCo would like to consider a northern approach to Cambridge and carrying on through to the airport?

Luton airport is a roughly 50 minute drive from my home.  The Strategic Statement gives a generalised journey time to Luton of 110 minutes, using EWR.  First, this is likely to Luton station, rather than Luton Parkway, and secondly, it is necessary to change onto the Luton Dart to get to the airport from Parkway.  So, catching an EWR train to Luton airport will involve two changes and (estimating) have a generalised journey time of about 120 minutes.  Alternatively, I could catch a National Express coach from the Trumpington Park and Ride, with an estimated journey time of 55 minutes or I could catch a train to Hitchin (slightly over half an hour) and take that same National Express coach from the station to Luton airport (estimated journey time of 20 minutes), with the alternative of a more frequent, but slower bus leaving from the centre of Hitchin (about ten minutes’ walk from the station).

Conclusion on travel from Cambridge

EWRCo claims that EWR “will bring you closer to towns and cities across the UK by connecting with the country’s main north to south railway lines and linking into wider existing services, allowing you to easily explore the north of England and Scotland…or head west to cosy up in the Cotswolds, the West Country or Wales”.

My personal conclusion, from the parochial perspective of a Cambridge resident is that, save for stations actually on EWR, it will make very little difference to getting out and about across the UK.  Even for EWR’s stations, I personally remain to be convinced.  If I am going to Ikea in Milton Keynes or Bicester village, I am still likely to choose to go by car and not only because I won’t want to lug my purchases home on the train.  

Conclusion on travel from other EWR stations

But what about getting out and about across the UK from other EWR stations?   The Strategic Statement concludes that rail journeys from Oxford, Milton Keynes or Bedford to Peterborough using EWR will be materially faster than the alternative.  It is therefore true that a link to the ECML might well result in some journey time benefits from these stations on journeys to Edinburgh and places  between it and Peterborough.    However, as the Strategic Statement shows, a detailed exercise is needed to determine whether these benefits are more illusory than real.  For example, an Oxford resident can already travel by rail to Edinburgh with a change at Wolverhampton or Birmingham New Street. Someone living in Milton Keynes already has a direct rail link to Edinburgh.

Network Rail has already looked at this in some detail

Those making bold claims about the increased ease of getting out and about as a result of EWR would do well to read pages 30 to 37 of the Strategic Statement.  Network Rail’s generalised journey time analysis suggests that the journey time to Cardiff will be worse using EWR from all of Cambridge, Bedford and Milton Keynes (it is obviously unchanged from Oxford).  The Strategic Statement notes an improvement in journey time  between Bedford and Bristol using EWR, but a worse journey time to Bristol from Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

Network Rail’s conclusion in the Strategic Statement is “three broad generalisations can be inferred from the data [we have analysed]:

1. East West Rail services will radically improve rail connectivity within a ‘core’ geography between Oxford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury….,

2. East West Rail services will offer marginal or no improvement … between key locations within that ‘core’ geography and those further to the east and west [later, the Strategic Statement gives an example of a 16 minute improvement between Milton Keynes and Ipswich]

3. East West Rail services will not offer a viable alternative for longer distance journeys between the extremes of the given geography, where interchange at London remains more efficient.”

The Strategic Statement goes on to say “The use of high frequency, fast services via existing main lines effectively cancels out the advantage accrued from the shorter physical distance travelled using East West Rail. This is due to the need to interchange repeatedly and the potential for misalignment between existing and East West Rail services (which are of a lower frequency, particularly west of Bletchley)… For those journeys where either the origin or destination, or both, lie off the core route, travel by road is likely to remain a more efficient and convenient option given the length of existing journey times and the marginal improvement offered by East West Rail. To return to the previous example, generalised journey time between Bedford and Swindon would – when using East West Rail services – drop from just under four hours to just over three and a half hours. Travel by private car would typically take between two and two and a half hours for the same journey. Improvements on present generalised journey times by rail would need to be greater if East West Rail were to offer a competitive alternative to road in this instance.”

Final thoughts

So why did EWRCo make the poorly verified claims about EWR’s usefulness through this map and accompanying articles and video?  It seems to me that this reflects an unresolved schizophrenia about its purpose and possibly also project inertia[5].  It is not sure whether it is supposed to be providing a fast end-to-end service between Oxford and Cambridge or a commuter service taking workers into each of these relatively small cities and the somewhat larger Milton Keynes.  The RUR and related documents seem to make clear that it is the latter, but EWRCo is nevertheless attempting to be all things to all people.  This may not be surprising given its apparent lack of strategic focus[6]  – why does freight have such a low profile, for example, when it seems critical to achieving net zero – and unconvincing business case[7].

EWRCo  has a good deal of homework still to do.  Even in its own backyard, as William’s 13 May 2022 “Will the EWR compete with Road?” makes clear, any advantage it may have is by no means overwhelming.  When the really significant cost of rail travel and station parking is taken into account, together with the first mile/last mile issue (which EWRCo appears slow to address), that advantage may well melt away.


[1] This is because of the potential for unacceptable detriment to journey times or capacity of these services if they were to do so.

[2] The concept is explained at 4.1 of the Strategic Statement.

[3] My own personal experience is that this journey does not compete well with road.

[4] The Strategic Statement also says “The opening of the Elizabeth Line will improve connectivity between Paddington and Liverpool Street for long-distance journeys to East Anglia”, so the difference may be even greater now (the Elizabeth Line opened after the Strategic Statement was published).

[5] The continuing preference for southern approach may also be a consequence of project inertia. EWRCo accepts in the RUR that “a northern approach is potentially quicker to construct and is likely to cost less than a southern  approach. The extent of work required is less, including less disruption to the existing network…[it]…may have less potential environment impact”.  The  ETR gives more detail on  the environmental impact  question saying “there are higher presence of higher value habitats and higher embodied carbon than for a northern approach”.   The Cambridge Independent of 3 August quotes EWRCo’s chief executive as saying “quite honestly, when I started, I didn’t think that the northern approach was viable at all”.  It is a pity that she did not start the job with an open mind regarding the approach to Cambridge.

[6] The Strategic Statement says “The statement outlines a vision for an East West Main Line …which is aimed at gaining the most from the investment made in the new infrastructure and providing a railway that delivers for passengers and freight users into the future.”  It goes on to make six suggestions, which include optimisation for freight,  provision of a strategic route for service re-routing, planned diversions, and operational flexibility in times of perturbation and electrification. 

[7] EWRCo has a singular focus on transporting workers to theoretical job growth at or near the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.  Its Theory of Change is not based on the years of detailed and recent work and public consultation carried out by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning in preparing the draft Local Plan, but on a 2017 National Infrastructure Commission (“NIC”) report “Partnering for Prosperity: a new deal for the Cambridge-MiltonKeynes-Oxford Arc” and an earlier Cambridge Econometrics report, “Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Northamption Growth Corridor,” commissioned by the NIC.  Both reports are pre-pandemic and so take no account of really significant changes in commuter travel patterns and rail revenue or the lack of a centralised housing plan envisaged by the now-defunct central Government Ox-Cam Arc proposals.

Categories
Business Case

The Elizabeth Line, EWR CS3, Optimism Bias and Housing Finances.

The Elizabeth Line – a sensible public investment.

Figure 1 Elizabeth Line Map. Pretty obvious why it carries so much traffic.

The Elizabeth Line (Figure 1) was built for a capital cost of £20 billion and carries 500,000 commuters to London every day. The capital cost per commuter is therefore £40,000 (20 billion / 500,000). That’s the cost of a fairly expensive new car. The number of Elizabeth Line daily commuters was recently reported to have reached 738,000 which would be £27,100 capital cost per commuter. One can see that this is a sensible use of public money – effectively the commuter is renting their seat on the train through ticket sales.

The UK Rail Finances from the Office of Road and Rail.

The Financial Times recently published the Office of Road and Rail Income figures in graphical form see Figure 2.

Figure 2 Office of Road and Rail Income Figures

The railways have needed a substantial subsidy for a long time.  The changed travel patterns during and since the pandemic have had a huge effect on passenger revenue and hence the subsidy required to keep the network going. Not only have rail passenger numbers dropped, but there has also been a shift from business to leisure travel and hence a reduction in peak rate ticket sales. Part of the discussion about the recovery since the pandemic centres on whether to include the Elizabeth Line which only opened after the pandemic and, despite being mainly a London local transport scheme, is sometimes included in the figures for intercity rail passengers. Figure 3 is up to date and excludes the Elizabeth Line. The passenger numbers are between 75% and 80% of pre-pandemic numbers. But fare revenue will be lower than that due to the shift to leisure travel. EWR is being built for business travel. In February 2023, Mark Harper stated that season ticket sales were at only 28% of pre-pandemic levels.

Figure 3 Rail Passenger use Excl. Elizabeth line c.f. pre-pandemic. Source: Department for Transport. 

It is interesting that both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Mark Harper referred to a permanent shift in post pandemic business travel patterns as part of the justification for cancelling the second phase on HS2 at the 2023 Conservative Party Conference.

Proposed East West Rail Bedford to Cambridge (EWR CS3)

In our previous post on this subject, we explained that the capital cost estimate of EWR CS3 in today’s money is £7.85billion[1] and the number of Cambridge commuters using EWRCo.’s “Theory of Change Trip End Model, Conventional Scenario” would be 472. Not 472,000, but just 472 and this model is calibrated on pre-pandemic behaviour reported in the 2011 census, also ignoring the effect of the new A421/A428 dual carriageway now under construction and running alongside the route and also ignoring the effect of the Cambridge South Station also under construction.

The EWR CS3 capital cost per Cambridge commuter therefore works out at £16.7million (£7.85billion/472). I did look at the most expensive cars in the world to find an equivalent, but it seems that a personal helicopter for each commuter might be a better comparison. One for each day of the week.

Optimism Bias

If you are trying to justify a publicly funded project and know that (a) you will be long gone by the time the project is executed (b) it’s not your money and (c) suspect that there is competition for the same funds from other project proposals; you might as well present the best possible picture. The alternative is that you don’t get funded at all. 

This is a well-known effect and is termed “Optimism Bias”. The National Audit Office recently published a Good Practice Guide where on page 13 we find the following statement:

optimism bias is a well-established concept, with a substantial body of research showing that forecast costs and benefits are generally highly inaccurate. More recently our work showed over-optimism was still an entrenched problem in government.”

Margaret Thatcher is a marmite figure, but one of her quotes seems appropriate here. “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

Even with all the green field housing, the cost per commuter is still in personal helicopter territory at £3.75million (£7.85billion/2090) although now you would have to make do with using the same helicopter every day. If you think the houses will be built or you believe EWRCo.’s “very aspirational” model parameters, use those. The best capital cost per rail commuter I can get, even taking all EWRCo. optimism bias is around £1 million per rail commuter.

I don’t think it’s reasonable for the taxpayer to subsidize these commuters that much. What would the ticket price have to be to break even without a subsidy? Asking the Cambridge commuter to pay £16.7million up-front is a big ask, but perhaps generations of commuters could pay it back over the 60 year life of the railway. That would be £1,265 per workday but £4,010 allowing for a 5% interest rate on the loaned capital. The assumed subsidy is so high the rail fare is irrelevant. On the other hand, who is going to pay £4,010 a day for a return rail ticket? No one.

We have heard that Beth West recently announced that EWRCo. were seeking reduce the capital cost of the project by reducing the amount of civil engineering. What would the capital cost have to be in order to be comparable with the Elizabeth Line in terms of capital cost per commuter? Let’s give EWRCo. a break and assume that somehow the green-field houses are built and also assume that the target is a capital cost of £40,000 per Cambridge commuter as we saw with the Elizabeth Line. The target capital cost for EWR CS3 becomes £40,000 x 2,090 = £83.6 million. They would need to cut out 99% of the capital cost. If they can do that, it would be scandalous that they ever proposed the current costs.

EWRCo. assume houses for 213,300 people are built – let’s assume that’s 100,000 houses[2]. Taylor Wimpey Ltd recently reported a gross margin of 25% on their house building. [3] At £300,000 per house that’s a gross profit of £7.5billion. About the same as the capital cost of the railway. Can we offset the cost of the railway with housing profits? Surprise windfall tax on property developers and land owners anybody?

A Possible EWR Timeline and Financial Summary

Here is a prediction of what would happen if this project went ahead.

  1. The taxpayer funds EWR CS3 for £7.85billion
  2. 472 Cambridge rail commuters.
  3. Local authorities grant permission for 100k new houses, which are constructed and sold to new people. {This is a high risk step and may well not happen}
  4. Landowners and property developers make a profit of £7.5billion
  5. Another 1,618 rail and 9,115 road commuters to Cambridge
  6. Railway shut down because the subsidy required to keep it running is too high.

The net transaction is a transfer of £7.5billion from the taxpayer to property developers (steps 1 and 4), new towns on green field sites and more road congestion. The government will claw back some of the profits of the property developers through taxation. However, if you really want to supersize Cambridge, there are less financially daft transport schemes. Such as busways and light rail networks. 


[1] EWRCo. and DFT quote numbers in the £5-6billion range, and it depends on how much of the risk estimate is included and also whether inflation is allowed for. There is a huge problem even at £5 billion capital cost

[2] Economic and Technical Report Appendix 4 Table 4.1. 99% of these people do not use the railway to commute to Cambridge.

[3] See Companies House Taylor Wimpey UK Limited Account to 31st December 2022, p.26

Categories
Business Case

How many Cambridge Jobs will EWR support?

Context

By reference to a paywalled article in the Economist, EWRCo. imply that their railway increase the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the OxCam Arc to £274 billion/year from a base of £111billion/year. They also state that if 80,000 jobs could be created in Cambridge by 2050, then that would only create £4 billion GVA/year. But they claim their railway can only create 28,200 Cambridge jobs – so £1.4billion GVA/year. Quite a drop.

This article examines the 28,800 claim and, using EWRCo.’s “Theory of Change Trip End model”, explains why it should really be closer to 500 only Cambridge jobs. Considering the Capital cost of the railway in 2023 money, this would equate to £16.7million per Cambridge job.

For reference, the Elizabeth Line is carrying 500,000 commuters per day, presumably going to that number of jobs.

Background

On the 26th of May 2023 EWRCo. published an Economic and Technical Report (ETR). The appendices to the report contain an interesting set of estimates of the number of jobs that the railway would support in Cambridge. There is of course a close relationship between the number of regular commuters to Cambridge and the number of jobs supported in Cambridge.

Appendix 4 of the ETR explains EWRCo.’s favoured technique for this which they call ‘Theory of Change Trip End Modelling’. They build up the number of commuters to Cambridge by adding up the numbers from a set of origin-destination (OD) journey pairs. The Destination of the OD pair is always Cambridge; the Origin is taken from a set of EWR stations: Cambourne, Tempsford, Bedford, Stewartby, Ridgmont, Woburn Sands and Milton Keynes/Bletchley.

The equation is as follows:

[commuters from and OD pair]

= [rail mode share] * [market size] * [workers per pop.] * [origin population]                                                                                                       

Where:

[origin population] = number of people residing within the 2km catchment area around the origin EWR station

[workers per pop.] = (no. of working people / population) at the origin

[market size] = fraction of commuters from the origin that travel to the destination by all modes.

[rail mode share] = fraction of commuters that use the railway.

The Conventional/Conservative Scenario

The 2011 census evidently asked people to say where they lived, where they worked and how they travelled to work. This allowed EWRCo. to work out the [rail mode share] and [market size] parameters for existing rail connected OD pairs around Cambridge as a function of the distance from Cambridge and in 2011. The figures from the 2021 census would have been affected by the pandemic.

The factors derived from this analysis were then applied to the new EWR stations and the results are presented in table 4.1 which is reproduced below. The name given for this model is either the conservative or the conventional scenario.

This scenario estimates 2,090 regular Cambridge commuters and assumes that 213,300 new people residing within 2km of an EWR station.

The model does not consider the following:

  • Cambridge South Station
  • Hauxton Park and Ride
  • The A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet Scheme
  • GCP busways Cambourne to Cambridge and CSET
  • GCP congestion charge/enhanced bus services will encourage more use of park and ride and bus services.

All of these would tend to reduce the [rail mode share] or [market size] parameters either through more remote working, reducing congestion on the road or providing new modes of commuting.

The results of the conventional scenario also depend on new housing being signed off in the catchment areas of the new station by several uncoordinated local authorities. EWRCo. say that this is not in their control and therefore it is a significant risk to the commuter numbers and hence the business case for the railway.

Appendix 8 of the ETR gives new capital cost estimates for the chosen heavy rail solution (HR5). Recent rail projects have tended to overspend their budgets (HS2, Transpennine), so it is reasonable to add the risk to the estimated capital cost. This is £5.34billion in 2010 money. The Bank of England shows that the general economy has had 47% inflation from 2010 to the latest figures in June 2023. Ignoring the fact that construction costs have suffered more inflation than the general economy we can say that this figure in today’s money should be at least £7.85billion.

Dividing the capital cost by the number of commuters leads to the result that each Cambridge commuter costs £3.76million. Knowing the parameters of the conventional model allows us to calculate how many Cambridge commuters there would be if the new housing were not built. There would be 132 from Cambourne; 6 from Tempsford and 334 from Bedford leading to a total of 472 commuters to Cambridge; £16.7million each in case you were wondering.

Well done to Anthony Browne MP for staying on the fence about EWR to support the wishes of those 132 Cambourne commuters. But I am sure they would rather have the £16.7million each.

The Transformational Scenario

The good people at EWRCo. decided to go a different way with their analysis and created a new set of parameters for [rail mode share] and [market size]. The justification for the new parameter settings is as follows:

Transformational scenario: Representing a plausible but very aspirational world where market sizes and mode shares represent around the limits of what is observed today for a given mode share, which may not be transferrable between contexts.

Not entirely clear what this means, but these new parameters are used to create table 4.2

Now the number of EWR Cambridge commuters has increased four times to 7,990 (still £0.98million per commuter). I think EWRCo. are saying that if the parameters turn out to be the best ever seen everywhere this is what we might get.

How EWR will support 28,200 jobs in Cambridge (apparently).

Not satisfied with the aspirational 7,990 Cambridge commuters, appendix 4 goes on the claim that EWR will actually support 28,200 Cambridge jobs. They stick with the “transformational” parameter for [market size] and define three stages “Expand”, “Grow” and “Strengthen”.

“Expand” counts the number of existing residents somehow inspired to commute to Cambridge just because EWR is built – even if they do not use the railway. (+5500 Cambridge jobs)

“Grow” counts additional Cambridge commuters from the existing local plans to 2031 extended to 2050 by adding 50%. This is housing not designed around EWR stations, but amazingly, they show the best possible [market size] parameters from the Transformational scenario. (+7900 Cambridge jobs)

“Strengthen” counts Cambridge commuters from 69,400 EWR dependent housing around new stations. (+14,480 Cambridge jobs). Again, this is for all modes not just rail.

So, 20,000 of these 28,200 Cambridge commuters in this scenario do not travel on the EWR. The roads would clearly get busier.

In summary, EWRCo. claim 28,200 Cambridge jobs. As explained above I can only see 472 in their model.

Interaction with other plans to support the growth of Cambridge Jobs

The Greater Cambridge local plan to 2041 is being prepared and is well advanced. There is provision for 66,000 additional jobs which is the independently assessed level of job demand. The plan provides housing (57,000 houses) and other interventions to support these jobs. EWRCo. say that their jobs target is part of this total. That must mean they are assuming some of the local plan will be withdrawn to fit around EWR. I understand that developers would be likely to take legal action if this were the case.

The local plan is currently held up by lack of water infrastructure (9,000 houses around Bourn Airfield, Waterbeach new town and the Cambridge city edge cannot be signed off), a problem that will not be fixed until the late 2030s at the earliest. Note that Anglian Water is the second most indebted UK water company after Thames Water.

We now also have the Cambridge 2040 Plan from Secretary of State Michael Gove. A new quarter for Cambridge and a strategy of densifying Cambridge rather than sprawling over the whole area between Oxford and Cambridge. How can the Department for Transport continue with an EWR project that is part of a now clearly out of date DLUHC OxCam Arc strategy that has been replaced by a completely different strategy to densify Cambridge?

Categories
news

Reflections on the Eversdens and Harston EWR Drop-In Events June 22 & 26th 2023

There was a great turn out from local people to both these events. Good effort from EWRCo. for putting them on. Some of the staff were more knowledgeable / forthcoming than the low base of last year’s “no new information” event in Haslingfield. One thing I did notice was that EWRCo. staff never took any notes of what had been said to them, either they have good memories or perhaps the input is filed in the bin. Tick box exercise or consultation with the public? You decide.

Figure 1 Cambridge Approaches Protest in the Eversdens 22nd June 2023

Figure 2 Cambridge Approaches Protest in Harston 26th June 2023 (front page on the Cambridge News and the Independent)

Noisy Protest at the EWR Drop-in Event Harston 26/6/2023

There was also a good turnout from local politicians. We even had the Lib Dem MP candidate for the next General Election acknowledge the poor business case that the railway has in a tweet shortly after the event. Her opposite number also appeared in a puff of blue smoke and told the assembled crowds that “personally, he was against the railway” to great applause.  Democracy in action for the politicians.

In contrast, EWRCo. continued like the Titanic, completely unsinkable.

Figure 3 Is EWR Unsinkable?

As always there were interesting conversations with EWRCo. staff inside the hall. Here are some of them. Do add more in the comments. I have changed the names to protect the innocent! (with apologies to Douglas Adams).

“I spoke to a business case guy, Marvin, who had been at EWR a year. He said he had never worked on a project with a lower BCR than this one.  He also encouraged me to keep fighting the project(!) and didn’t make it sound like the northern approach was off the table.”

There was a recorded video of Beth West at the end of the room. It seems that someone had been sick over the video screen. Afterwards Trillian explained “Sorry, but my son vomited over the Beth West video screen”. I suspect it was at the point where Ms West was explaining that Tempsford is a brown-field site, even though RAF Tempsford is outside the 2km catchment for the station. Unfortunate, but understandable – the vomiting that is.

“I spoke to Zaphod on the business case side. He did not know that the local plan was held up by the water infrastructure. ‘Yeah, someone else told me that, just now’” I mean EWRCo. has only spent £150 million over the past two years studying the problem, you can’t expect them to know about our water infrastructure problems can you?

Zaphod also said, ‘we’re going to have to work hard on the business case because we have chosen the most expensive route. Yes, we also need to look at the local plan. I asked about there being only 20% of Cambridge commuters from Cambourne using the railway and would that not make the roads busier. He said ‘yes, rail is not a dominant mode [of transport]’. He also said, ‘it’s about houses, it’s always been about houses’.”

I challenged the Will Gallagher on the point that the jobs target for Cambridge in the local plan is an independently assessed demand estimate and that the local plan already has the interventions necessary to support those jobs. 57,000 houses supported by GCP’s various transport schemes. Either the 28,200 jobs that EWR is trying to support is additional the local plan – in which case why was the independently assessed forecast wrong? Or it is part of the local plan numbers in which case which part of the local plan needs to be undone? After a bit of dancing around he said, “it’s a fair challenge” and followed up with “in the end the chancellor will decide”. Resistance is futile.

“I spoke to Ford Prefect on the business case side and explained that lack of water infrastructure was a serious risk to his business plan, he replied that this was an environmental problem and that I should speak to an environmental person. I explained the concept of “responsibility dispersion” in the context of a railway project which was 95% about housing but the transport organisation proposing it took no responsibility for signing off on that housing and nor so far did anyone else. He thanks me for teaching him a new term. Responsibility dispersion, he’ll probably find it useful.”

“So, I spoke to an environment person, Wowbagger, who gave a great explanation of how biodiversity net gain would work. After an assessment of the number of units of biodiversity lost (the unit for biodiversity is called the “unit”), they would acquire land, ideally alongside the railway and create replacement habitats. In some cases, ten times the land area would be needed for the replacement as was lost in the first place. I asked if that meant they needed 2x or 10x the land for the railway and the housing developments to achieve the object. Wowbagger didn’t have an estimate, but it would not be that much.”

“I spoke to one of the local farmers at the event and he confirmed that he had been asked to sell them more land than was strictly required for the railway. He told them where to go with that.”

If you have more feedback from the event do add it to the comments.

Categories
Business Case

The Meaning of the Triple Helix

Well, the Route Update Announcement (RUA) is here and the documents associated with it contain quite a bit of material about the business case for the railway. Here are some points that I found interesting.

Transformational Growth (ref: Economic and Technical Report Appendix 4 pp.59)

If you are environmentally conscious and concerned about the level of development we have already seen in our area (and that included in local plans), perhaps you think that new railways are a green form of transport. We could have the electric car vs rail debate, or we could talk about the lack of interest that EWRCo. have shown in taking freight of the road, or even the vast embedded carbon in construction of a new railway. But there is more direct evidence in the RUA material about the scale of EWR dependent housing development (economic growth’s ugly sister) that EWRCo. are assuming in their business model.

Look at the assumed growth in Cambourne and Tempsford from development dependent on EWR. Together, they would be houses for an additional 97,400 people and just about all on green field / prime agricultural sites. For comparison, the population of Cambridge in the 2021 census was 125,000. These are also only the people within 2km of an EWR station – the population of Milton Keynes is much higher than 66,000 shown in the table. The EWRCo. objective is to get more people commuting into high paid jobs in Cambridge where they can generate income and taxes for HMRC. But EWR is not very efficient and doing that. Not everyone in the new houses will commute to Cambridge and not all of them will use rail – see above for some optimistic assumptions. As usual, EWRCo.’s journey times are ridiculously optimistic since they do not include first and last mile or the time spent waiting for the next train or indeed the fact that rail tickets are just really expensive.

We had some level 2 BCRs in the 2020 Option Report which were all pretty low. Since then, the cost estimates have “matured” and I was going to say there had been inflation. However, notice this table is still at 2010 prices (PV) so we can add at least 30% to all these numbers to get to today’s prices. 

The point is that the level 2 BCRs are all very poor and even adding a huge allowance for yet more “wider benefits” (tax revenue from new jobs), it’s still not looking like a good investment.

The rational decision here (unless, like EWRCo. employees, your job depends on it) is not to do the project. If you had to do it the best option is clearly HR2. But EWRCo. have chosen HR5 which has the lowest BCR. Strange, and perhaps indicative of the power of the Triple Helix. Read on to find out…

Updated Costs (ref: Economic and Technical Report Appendix pp.86-87)

Before we go there let’s have a deeper look at the construction cost comparison and what those HR numbers are. Here is the table with the latest costs and an explanation of the HR numbers. EWRCo. do not state the basis year for the costs.

There is also a caveat that HR1 uses a 4-track northern approach to Cambridge (NATC) while HR2 uses a new 3-track approach for the NATC. That presumably doesn’t involve knocking down any houses. It’s good that they now agree this is possible.

It also means that we can work out how much cheaper it is to approach Cambridge from the north than from the south. Base cost (HR3) – base cost (HR2) = £2.37Bn-£1.98Bn = £390 million. Actually, based on HS2, Transpennine etc, we should definitely be using the upper end of the risk range figures. That would be £620 million.

Similarly at the Bedford end base cost (HR5) – base cost (HR3) = £3.35bn – £2.37bn = £0.98bn, with the risk added £1.57Bn. You could do a lot for Priory Country Park on the Varsity route for that.

Summary

EWRCo. analysis assumes huge green field housing developments outside any local plan and, with the demise of the centrally driven OxCam Arc, no clear means to deliver or spatially plan them around EWR.  EWRCo. analysis also assumes journey times that make no allowance for first and last mile. That implies perfect “place making” meaning they assume that everyone can get to the station immediately at both ends of the journey and a train just happens to be waiting for them. Despite all this, they can only get to a BCR less than one with 2010 prices. Furthermore, of the four options analysed, they picked the one with the worst BCR which avoids any damage to the Priory Country Park and has the first station that it reaches in Cambridge as Cambridge South and the Biomedical Campus (CBC). 

They are targeting the creation of 80,000 jobs in addition to the 17,000 already there. There is little room to expand the CBC since it is hard up against the Green Belt and was not the prime focus for the Greater Cambridge Local Plan.

Both the northern and the southern approach to Cambridge can easily serve all three Cambridge Stations. The economy of the space constrained CBC to the south is easily balanced by the Science parks and new planned developments to the north of Cambridge.

Enter the Triple Helix (Economic and Technical Report §6.4.19)

There have in the past been indications of rationality from government about EWR and the OxCam Arc. Remember Grant Shapps was going to cancel the project. Michael Gove ditched the centrally controlled OxCam Arc. There were signs of Huw Merriman seriously talking about the NATC (it’s cheaper and better for freight). The NATC is even used as the reference heavy rail comparison in the RUA’s light rail study document published as late as January 2023. 

As we have seen from the details of the RUA report there is no business case, and the chosen route is has the lowest BCR. But, to mis-quote J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings:

Victory was near, but the power of the Triple Helix could not be undone”.

It seems that the RUA material has been changed in the run up to the announcement which turns out to be more of a route confirmation rather than an update.

I am looking at this strange section in the Economic and Technical Report

§6.4.19 The Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge region is further advantaged by its access to a unique ‘Triple Helix.’ The Triple Helix is an established concept that demonstrates overlapping interactions between academia and universities, industry and business, and government and public sector institutions. The close proximity of these institutions and organisations to each other form overlapping circles or helixes.” 

It then goes onto list three life science related triple helixes involving players from the CBC.  Here is the first one:

  • Astra Zeneca on the CBC (had they actually moved there in 2020? Having spent £1Billion on their new HQ at the CBC is there any evidence they would build another one there because of EWR?)
  • Government – In Downing Street / Westminster
  • The University of Oxford (specifically the Jenner Institute which is a 30 minute bus ride from Oxford Station)

These three entities successfully worked together on the AZ vaccine without EWR in place and there is no evidence that EWR would have made any material difference to that project, especially during a lock down where rail travel was restricted.

There is nothing unique about the CBC Triple Helix, nor does Silicon Valley depend on rail rather than the roads.

But despite all logic, this example seems to appeal to HM Treasury at an emotional level and hence connecting to the CBC first is clearly essential to get this project funded. Even if it means signing off a loss making project and compounding the error by going for the route which their own analysis says has the lowest BCR. It’s a sorry state of affairs for our democracy, but HM Treasury is the customer and the local people and logic really don’t matter.

That’s the meaning of the Triple Helix. 

Categories
Business Case Ecology

EWR Bedford to Cambridge: Who is Responsible for the Spatial Plan?

Summary

  • The Flawed National Infrastructure Commission vision for the EWR.
  • Why The Treasury supports it.
  • How is the Bedford-Cambridge section supposed to generate more high value jobs?
  • No one is responsible for the spatial plan or the real business case for EWR.

The Flawed NIC Vision for EWR

One of the key players behind the creation of the OxCam Arc Concept was Bridget Rosewell formerly of the National Infrastructure Commission. She spoke at the Westminster Social Policy Forum on the 17th of March 2023 about their adoption of the East West Rail. 

Here are two relevant extracts from the conference auto transcript:

And I’ve argued this quite strongly, when we were originally debating the report and the project, we needed to have something which made this more than about two, as I think somebody said to tiny towns, or even to small cities, because it’s not just about a few professors going from one to the other. And a rather elitist view, if you like about what this was supporting, but a much broader perspective about creating an effective labour market, where you had housing that people could afford to live in. And you had much more flexibility that you could say live in Milton Keynes, one of you, one, one behalf of your partnership could go in the opposite direction, one could go in the Cambridge direction, or to go to Cranfield or to Northampton. And then you could change jobs, and you might go another direction. So you had the flexibility to build your careers and to continue to support that economic progress.

And that’s where we came up with the 1 million houses. 1 million [houses], 1 million jobs, actually not so many houses. So that’s that was the kind of argument, the strategic view behind them to us, we felt about why you would need better transport and why you might need, why you might need links of various kinds, including Roads, we’ll come back to roads in a minute, because it was definitely that East West Rail, which was the original hook, partly because that’s what local people, local communities, local authorities had come up with. So then you get into the well, okay, if you do that, how’s that going to work? There were already plans for additional lots of quite big additional housing in Milton Keynes, but we looked also in the report at the capacity for urban extensions in other places, and indeed, redevelopment of brownfield sites, particularly on the eastern side, because you’ve got redundant airfields and those kinds of things.” 

Do you remember being asked by local politicians about whether you supported EWR? Bridget Rosewell went on..

And what’s the mechanisms by which you can then think about, okay, if you put housing, how does that support use of the railway? And what are the revenue implications? I’ve argued strongly elsewhere? And over years that if you can’t cover your operational costs of a railway then or indeed any other well, railways because you’re selling tickets, if you can’t cover your operational costs, then why are you doing it? So you needed to show that it would support that housing in that housing development, we’ve argued that with Crossrail instead of Crossrail two, incidentally as well. So it’s that labour market and flexibility. Generating the trips out of those trips get paid for and is it road versus rail. We did support the expressway at the time.”

The auto transcript isn’t perfect, but hopefully you get the spirit of what she said. The vision is effectively a single conurbation from Oxford to Cambridge with housing and a flexible labour market, at least for people who live in Milton Keynes. 

It was understood at an early stage that the railway could not fund itself based on ticket sales. That is something we have flagged on this blog several times and it explains why the secret WebTAG business case should a) show that it is not self-funding and b) will probably never be published or at least not until all the decisions have been made (was this true of the EWR western section). c) the current Secretary of State for Transport and the Rail Minister, have both complained about the cost of railways and whether they can fit new ones in their frozen capital budget.

Why The Treasury Support it

But the Treasury support building the railway. Here is an extract from their Spring Budget Policy Paper 2023

Life sciences

The UK is a world-leader in the life sciences industry, with significant R&D hubs such as Cambridge’s Biomedical Campus. East West Rail – the rail line joining Oxford and Cambridge – will support further growth in life sciences and other high-productivity sectors across the region, connecting businesses and talent. In May, the government will confirm the route for the new Bedford-Cambridge section, and will provide capacity funding to support local authorities to develop their plans for strategic economic growth around new stations.

Reading between the lines, the HM Treasury officials (whoever they are) see that EWR means more high productivity jobs mean more tax revenue. and have advised successive chancellors of their views. Who knew that there were rail experts in the Treasury?

EWR also mean more houses – the “talent” have to live somewhere.

Consider a senior scientist or a manager in the life sciences sector paid £60,000/year. They will pay £16,547 in Income Tax and National Insurance. We should add VAT on what they buy (£8,690); Employer’s National Insurance (£8,280) and pro-rated Corporation Tax (say £3,000 on a 20% profit at 25%). That leads to a total tax revenue of around £36,500.  If EWR could enable 50,000 such jobs, it would generate tax revenue of £1.83 billion per year.  Of course, these people also generate costs for the government as well (Health service, water supply, education etc). Perhaps at this level of salary we might assume that they are net contributors to the government but only around 10% of salary. If so 50,000 of them would contribute £0.3 billion to the economy net of the costs. The higher the salary the bigger the net contribution. 

This net contribution must pay off the capital cost of the railway and much of the operating costs since they will not be covered by ticket sales. The EWR Option report estimated that the recurring cost of option E would be £2.4 Billion over 60 years in 2010 prices. A figure which had increased by 1100% since the previous estimate a year earlier. It’s £40million/year in 2010 prices, adding 43% inflation that’s £57.2million/year in Feb 2023 prices and only slightly less than EWRCo. are currently spending doing whatever it is that they are currently doing.

The deputy prime minister recently stated that EWR would produce “a projected increase in economic output by over £100 billion by 2050”. That’s 50 times bigger than the £1.83billion in the previous paragraph. Most of this projected growth is clearly nothing to do with EWR. See our previous article on this. I suggest that much of it is also a Treasury/Property developer fantasy. It would certainly involve paving over much of the land in our area.

How is the Bedford-Cambridge section supposed to generate more high value jobs?

Well, it can allow people to commute from new houses around EWR stations into work near the three Cambridge stations (north, central and the new south station). The station with the most space for new offices is Cambridge North Station due to the Northeast Cambridge development and the release of the Cambridge Airport area around 1000m from the north station.The Cambridge Biomedical Campus and Cambridge South Station are already hard up against the Green Belt. 

But which EWR stations offer space for new houses? It’s really Cambourne and Tempsford with the current proposal, although CBRR have also proposed Northstowe. Both Cambourne and Northstowe are already served by approved (Cambourne) or built (Northstowe) guided busways which would compete with the EWR to a greater or lesser extent. There are 1850 houses in the Greater Cambridge local plan around Cambourne which might be moved if EWR is built, but that’s not enough to move the needle on the business case for the railway. Extensions to the local plan to enlarge Cambourne or indeed Northstowe are also possible if the central government were to introduce development corporations.

Can Tempsford “save the day?”

If you look at the proposed sites for the Tempsford Station in the EWRCo. 2021 Consultation they are all in a line next to the East Coast Main Line. They also currently don’t have any road access and are surrounded by agricultural land (See figure 1).

Figure 1 Tempsford Station sites from the EWRCo. 2021 Consultation and approximately the same area on Google Maps

Figure 2 Urban and Civic Plans from 2020 report

Urban and Civic have purchased options on 2113 acres of land around the site of this proposed new Tempsford Station and have plans for up to 7000 houses (see Figure 2). That’s a density of only 8 dwellings per hectare (dph). For comparison, Cambourne achieved 40 dph. That would then be 35,000 houses. Early EWR related conversations with CBRR in 2019 talked about 50,000 houses around Tempsford. However, the Tempsford site was dropped in the Central Bedfordshire local plan. In what follows I still assume 50,000 houses at Tempsford.

Cllr Stephen Fergusson also looked at the local plans around St. Neots in relation to EWR and explained how the whole area could become a single conurbation. A dead dormitory town for Cambridge commuters. (See Figure 3). We already have plenty of those for London commuters further south.

Figure 3 Cllr Fergusson’s October 2021 Article in the Hunts Post

If Tempsford is so crucial to the treasury-driven business case for this project, why have we heard so little about it from them? Tempsford would become a city comparable in size to Cambridge. Of course, if you are making the case for a project, you naturally talk about the upside, but not the downside. It seems that (correctly) houses with specific green field locations are considered to be a downside. The loss of prime agricultural land would be huge.

Here are my observations.

  • This Tempsford site will have good access to the new Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet dual carriageway so access to science parks around Cambridge North Station by road will be fast (32 minutes). Will EWR compete on time and the marginal cost of driving (including first and last mile)? No, it won’t. As Bridget Rosewell said this could be an economic success but not because of the railway. Electric cars in the 2030s will still allow you to go shopping on the way home from work or drop off a child at school on the way.
  • Who is responsible for making sure that this housing development happens and that it really will serve the business case of EWR? I can’t think of anyone, there is no master spatial plan and hence no clear responsibility for the real business case. The new Oxford Cambridge Partnership have not been asked to do a plan. MLUHC have stepped back from the OxCam Arc. EWRCo./DfT don’t feel any responsibility for this (they were recently asked how many houses at Tempsford and responded “can’t say”). Who is it? The treasury? The department for business and trade? 
  • The construction of 50,000 houses would emit 4.25Mega tonnes of CO2 (at 85 tonnes per house). According to the Tyndall institute the Bedford area has 4.8MtCO2 remaining in its budget for 1.5C of global warming from the UN Paris Agreement. Tempsford would be a disaster.
  • Left to the market, Urban and Civic’s proposal is only for 5,000 to 7,000 houses which would not be enough for EWR.
  • How many of these houses would be bought by people regularly using the EWR to get to high value jobs in Cambridge? Wouldn’t most of them go to people going elsewhere – for example London on the ECML; people driving to Cambridge and Bedford people who just work in Tempsford. Some will be people that move from similar jobs elsewhere in the country hence they will be no new net contribution to the Treasury.

No one is Responsible for the Spatial Plan or the Real business case for EWR

It seems that the EWR business case can be greatly improved by not actually building the railway since it adds little value. That way local planners can choose where to put new housing (hopefully on brown field sites first) and solve transport problems locally with less environmental damage and cost. 

Who needs Bridget Rosewell’s single flexible labour market from Oxford to Milton Keynes to Cambridge? As we have said before on this blog, the OxCam Arc is such a big area its agglomeration factor compared to a city is very low.

Here is other question from Prof. David Rogers to Bridget Rosewell about her flexible Oxford to Cambridge labour market. He asked her where is the 15 minute neighbourhood in all this? (it’s in the transcript).

Okay, that’s a very, very big question, isn’t it? Apart from anything else, which when although we are seeing some changes to patterns of work, there are lots of areas where people if they go to work, still need to go somewhere to do that work, particularly laboratory work and all of these sorts of things. Okay, if you’re gonna write up the results, you might stay at home. But there’s still an enormous amount of getting together that I think we’re increasingly finding, as people sort of recover from the pandemic and it’s and it’s how it’s played out.

She labelled it as big question and then proceeded to talk about something else.

An Oxford based spatial planner called, Dr. Valler also presented at the WSPF conference here are his slides. He appealed to the conference that the OxCam Arc needed a spatial plan. 

The fractured governance of the region between Oxford and Cambridge, or even Between Bedford and Cambridge mean that no-one can produce an enforceable spatial plan except perhaps DLUHC, but they clearly are not planning to do so.

EWRCo. and property developers are selling HM Treasury a story of increased tax revenue from building the railway. Who cares if people use EWR so long as it releases more agricultural land for building housing? Who cares if the business case works so long as EWRCo. get to complete the project they are paid to complete?

Going back to the question in the title of this post. No-one owns the spatial plan; hence no-one owns the business case which includes the East West Railway.

We are about to waste a lot of public money and cause a lot of environmental damage on a project which has no proven benefits. When in years to come it proves to be a mess, no one will take responsibility.

Categories
Business Case news

The Savanta study: do people support the East West Railway?

The East West Railway Company’s web site claims that “71% of people support an east-west public transport connection”. 

Given that EWRCo. have persistently refused to publish a business case for their project, it’s hard to see how anyone that cares about good use of public money can make an informed judgement about it. What information we have indicates that it will have a high capital cost and thereafter make operational losses considerably higher than the national average for UK railways. The logic[1] for central government support for the project is around a step change in housing growth in the OxCam Arc.

When looking at survey results it’s good to know

a) what was the question
b) who was asked the question and
c) who funded the study.

These questions are hard to tell from the EWRCo. website, but a recent response to a freedom of information request to them kindly gives us more detail. This is in the form of a presentation from a company called Savanta who performed the survey and reports on the main results to EWRCo.

This new information allows us to better address the questions a) to c) above.

What was the question?

There were several questions in the survey. The one referred to by the statistic on the EWRCo. website was this (presumably because EWRCo. liked the answer):

Do you think a new east-west public transport link, which connects communities between Oxford, Bicester, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge, is a good idea?

To say yes to this question requires no commitment to use it and the question could be referring to a bus route. A more challenging question for EWRCo. would have been whether people would regularly use their railway service.

One of the justifications for the OxCam Arc / EWR has been to solve problems related to the affordability of housing in cities. In this Savanta survey 45% of people said there would be a negative impact on affordability against only 17% who thought it would be positive. Why didn’t EWRCo. publish that?

Who was asked the question?

The summary provided by Savanta says that they conducted 1,000 interviews with individuals living within the East West Rail catchment area. 700 interviews were over the phone and 300 were face to face in Oxford, Cambridge, Milton Keynes/ Bletchley, Bedford, Sandy, Cambourne, Aylesbury and Bicester. 

Leeds University Institute for Transport Studies define the catchment area for a railway station as being within 800 metres[2] . This gives an indication where the people interviewed in the Savanta study were in the towns and cities indicated.  In all the surveyed towns, the proposed EWR station already exists except in the case of the small town of Cambourne where it is proposed to be next to an existing dual carriageway.

In general, the people surveyed will be expecting little disruption to their lives from the construction of the railway since there are existing tracks and some new options to travel to places that they currently cannot get to so quickly by rail. These people are a tiny fraction of the overall population of the area between Oxford and Cambridge and are likely to be those with the most to gain and the least to lose. The location of the people surveyed perhaps also explains why so many thought that house prices would go up – not a bad thing if you already own a house in the catchment area. To make the point another way by reducing it to the absurd: if you were asked whether you would like a publicly funded green helicopter service to wherever you want to go on demand from the end of your street – what would you say?

Who funded the study?

Of course, Savanta were funded by the EWRCo.  Both parties would therefore be motivated to find a valid but positive result for the EWR project. EWRCo. must know where the support for the railway lies based on their extensive but unpublished consultation results, so they would know where to conduct the survey. Not mentioning the fact that the survey was conducted in the catchment areas for their existing stations in their publicity seems misleading on the part of EWRCo.

Please ignore this flawed study. 


[1] such as it is, given the unsolved first and last mile problem.

[2] https://www.its.leeds.ac.uk/projects/konsult/private/level2/instruments/instrument004/l2_004b.htm


Categories
Business Case

UK Rail Finances, EWR and Northern Powerhouse Rail

In addition to the financial black hole that is HS2, Jeremy Hunt mentioned two other rail schemes in his autumn budget. EWR and Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). In this post I want to make a few comparisons between these schemes to see what it tells us about EWR.

Passenger numbers for these intercity railways will be driven by the size of the cities that they serve. Let’s compare the 6 largest cities on the NPR (Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Hull) with the 6 largest on the EWR (MK, Bedford, Oxford, Cambridge, Bletchley). Population figures are taken where possible from the 2021 census.

Population of the 6 largest cities on NPR vs EWR. 2021 Census

I draw two conclusions from this a) passenger demand on EWR will be around three times lower than on NPR b) spending per head of population is three times higher for EWR than for NPR. We should also consider how well developed the public transport is around these stations. I suspect NPR wins there as well because the NPR cities are better developed with regard to local transport, and the railway has been there a long time.

I don’t recall any specific Conservative manifesto commitment to restore EWR in 2019, but there was something about levelling up in the north of England, wasn’t there? And no, I don’t believe in Cambridge exceptionalism despite it being my hometown.

If these schemes were going to be privately financed or profitable, that would be one thing, but their capital costs are huge, and they will suffer a loss for every year that they operate. All funded by the taxpayer or national debt.

The government should publish a business case for EWR and allow public scrutiny. Currently it looks like a few mandarins in the treasury believing vague promises in smoke filled rooms about wider benefits and economic growth. We have no objective or publicly understood measure to compare one rail scheme with another and the result will be be that truly awful white elephants get funded.

The Office of Road and Rail recently published their UK Rail finances for the year to 2022. They are still awful.

Year to MarchCostsIncome: Passenger FaresIncome: Government SubsidyIncome: Other
202020.211.66.52.0
202121.02.516.91.3
202222.86.513.31.5
ORR UK rail finances reports in recent years: Unit £Bn

The 2022 figures were clearly still affected by COVID 19 even though the final lockdowns started to be lifted at the start of the period on the 29th of March 2021. It’s also worth noting that the rail subsidy had been running at above £5Bn for 15 years before the year to March 2020.

The average UK railway ran at a 33% loss before COVID, it’s 58% with the latest figures and despite significant increases in rail fares this does not seem to be improving. EWR will be a below average railway. Passenger numbers will be lower than average because of the small cities which it connects. It also needs to recoup the capital costs.

There is very little hard evidence that EWR will trigger wider benefits and economic growth. Surely that would require people to be using it in significant numbers. Please, EWRCo., show us the passenger forecasts and their justification. Also tell us why we need an intercity railway to solve local commute problems that are being solved more cheaply and flexibly with busways. How about some light rail? We could have funded that with just the design costs of CS3.

Remember that EWR was part of the OxCam Arc. There was a big consultation about the spatial plan for the OxCam Arc in 2021.  That’s important because it could help the first and last mile problem from hitting EWR passenger numbers more than it needs to. After a recent FOI request, the government (DLUHC) refused to publish the results of the consultation, because they are planning to do so at some unspecified time in the future. Without a spatial plan the first and last mile issue will kill the EWR passenger demand. Beth West of EWRCo. said recently that a spatial plan would be good, but they could be waiting a long time for that and we should just do the best we can without it. Is that an acceptable approach to spending billions of taxpayers’ money? (No).

We have asked EWRCo. about first and last mile repeatedly. EWR Co.’s Will Gallagher said he was talking to England’s Economic Heartland about it. At their recent EEH conference, EEH’s Naomi Green said that first and last mile was a hard problem and that perhaps the private sector could do something about it. Good grief.

Meanwhile it has been announced that EWR have appointed a consortium of WSP and Mott Macdonald to be their technical partners. If this is the main development partner contract, then information on the Department for Transport website indicates that the contract value is £676.5million. They seem to be full steam ahead on their part of the “decide, announce, defend” path. Don’t worry about the local people. Or logic for that matter.

Let’s have another look at those capital costs.

Capital Costs

You may have noticed that railway construction contracts tend to increase in cost over time. This is not all down to bad estimation. Part of it is around the careful control of project scope. The idea is to get to the smallest cost possible, get it signed off and then add to it after that.

Consider the following for EWR:

Electrification is excluded the current cost estimates based on a continually changing story about hydrogen trains or more recently battery-operated trains, but full electrification is not excluded as a possibility. Importantly, there is no line item in the capital budget for any means of getting to an operationally net zero railway. The cost of electrification of the comparable Transpennine Rail Upgrade (TRU) grew from £2.9bn to £11bn billion. Defenders of rail say there were a lot of tunnels on the TRU. I say let’s see a conservative estimate included in the costs.

Freight. The current commitment is to maintain the existing freight traffic. That’s a few trains per week on the West Anglia Mainline, perhaps something on the Midlands Mainline through Bedford, but certainly nothing like the 50 freight trains per day that Network Rail would like to see running on the whole EWR. That means freight loops and a full freight specification for the railway. EWR Co.’s Beth West says discussions continue about that. And I predict nothing will be put in the cost estimates until it is signed off. Maybe you are getting the pattern now?

Mitigations. EWR Co. have been talking about reducing the height of viaducts and embankments, going under roads instead of over them. I asked them for a cost estimate of all these mitigations. They don’t have an estimate. So, guess what? There is nothing in the capital budget for it. Will mitigations get implemented. Who knows?

Grade Separated Junction at Great Shelford. This is the busiest point on the currently proposed EWR route into Cambridge. There is traffic from King’s Cross, Liverpool Street, a bit of freight and EWR. There is no station to hold trains to make the timing fit. The Department for Transport revealed an additional £499.6m cost for 4-tracking into Cambridge even though the staff at the recent Haslingfield drop in event said they did not know about it. After a few months EWRCo. did respond to a question which confirmed that this huge sum of money did not include the Grade Separated Junction. Something else to look forwards to in future estimates then.

Mick Lynch of the RMT

I am going to say something about the recent rail strikes, just because they illustrate how far from economic reality the UK rail system really is. Mick Lynch argued today that pay rises for train drivers (who currently get paid £60,000 a year or more) would not contribute to inflation. That’s because they would not necessarily be passed on to passenger fares. He suggests that the money could be taken from the guaranteed profits of the private rail operators. There will come a point where these rail operators will hand back to their franchises to the government. This has already happened. Meanwhile the government can complain about how the rail industry needs to become more efficient. No one takes responsibility for the broken system that we have, and yet the government wants to add more railways which will perform even worse than the existing ones. And to be fair, in the main, the opposition parties seem to support them.

But Aren’t Railways Green?

You might be thinking that we should build railways anyway because they are greener than all those fossil-fuelled cars.  Consider the following:

By the time EWR CS3 starts operation in the 2030s, the only available new cars to buy will be electric and the costs will come down. Yes, there are enough raw materials to make the batteries (consider Sulphur and Sodium batteries).

The CO2 emissions from the construction of the railway will be significant and operationally, trains running at less than capacity are not efficient. We only see a benefit if people prefer to give up their cars and take the train. Perhaps people should be forced to do this? That depends how authoritarian you feel the government should be.

The economic growth used to justify the railway comes with large scale housing development on green field sites near new stations. That creates huge amounts of CO2.

Categories
Business Case

The Case Against East West Rail’s Central Section

Jeremy Hunt, Our sharp-eyed new Chancellor. Will he spot Nellie, the elusive EWR Central Section White Elephant? Find out on 17th November 2022 when he presents the Autumn Statement. See also bonus photo for Nellie fans at the end of this post.

This post publishes an open letter from Great Shelford resident Annabel Sykes to Anthony Browne MP and sets out her thinking on why the EWR Bedford to Cambridge Section should be dropped.

10 November 2022 

Dear Anthony 

I am writing not only in my local capacity, but also as a concerned taxpayer. 

In my opinion, East West Rail (“EWR”) central section is, at best and subject to some critical preconditions (explained in the next paragraph), a possible nice-to-have.  By contrast, some things are essential, most relevantly a coherent solution to Cambridgeshire’s severe public transport issues (including the building of Cambridge South station).   

EWR central section will not make a meaningful difference to  this essential objective, for the reasons explained at 1 below, and for a minimum of around £5 billion[1] of taxpayer’s money (2021 figures, so before the current high level of building inflation), does not represent any kind of value.  I also note that this is before any meaningful costs for extending EWR beyond Cambridge to the east are available. It would, in my view, be  very rash to make a decision to proceed with the central section of EWR (on any route whatsoever) without first having (a) a clear statement of its purpose (1(g) below), (b) a route which has been determined based on that purpose, (c) a public review of a business case and costs which are based on that purpose and (d) a proper costs estimate for the eastern section, again whatever route it follows (see 1(f) below for why). 

The Conservative Party’s 2019 Manifesto contains no express commitment to EWR.  The closest it gets is “We will also invest in improving train lines to…. East Anglia”.  The building of Cambridge South station and the Ely capacity enhancements, together with signalling upgrades and frequency increases on lines that can’t currently be used to get to jobs (see 1 and 3 below) could meet this commitment. 

1.  The Lack of Business Case for EWR Central Section

I should make clear that I am not an enemy of rail.  I live within hearing distance of the West Anglia Mainline (“WAML”) (inside the house, including at night) and I use the train whenever I reasonably can.  As I am over 60, it is relatively affordable, but both rail travel and station parking are expensive, especially for those between 30 and 60 (who don’t generally benefit from any discount on rail fares).  

I cannot see that EWR’s central section represents value for money or forms part of a coherent transport strategy for Cambridgeshire, for the following reasons:   

(a) Unlike some other places along the proposed EWR route, Cambridge is already very well connected by rail in all directions, including to the East Coast Main Line (“ECML”) (at both Hitchin and Peterborough).  In terms of east-west connection, it will also benefit from the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet road improvement scheme to which the Government has already committed.  There is a serious question whether it needs a third connection to the ECML.  If it does, the route 

needs very careful thought, having fully identified the link’s purpose or purposes (see (g) below).  This is a contrast with Bedford and points west, which do not currently have a link with ECML and, in general (with the exception of Oxford) don’t have rail links as extensive as Cambridge. 

(b) A draft Strategic Narrative for EWR prepared by Steer for the East West Main Line Partnership (“EWMLP”) suggests that Cambridge (among others) has a lower than average level of commuting into its centre for an economy of its size and importance. Assuming this is correct, it may well have more to do with (i) the positioning of the stations relative to places of employment (something which will be significantly improved with the building of Cambridge South station) and (ii) the timing, frequency and cost of the existing rail services, than to any lack of connection.  For example, I met someone recently who lives in Soham and drives into Cambridge to her place of work because the services from Soham are not frequent enough to allow her to use them to commute.  The previous mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority was fond of pointing out that Manea and March have stations, but they can’t be used to commute regularly to Cambridge because of lack of sufficient services (either quantity or hours).  Wisbech no longer has a station.

(c) In saying this, I do not ignore the very serious public transport problems in much of Cambridgeshire and especially in Cambourne and other new towns.  I am, however,  not convinced that a service which stops at St Neots/Tempsford and Cambourne and swings round to the new Cambridge South station will make much of a dent in this problem.  A holistic approach is needed; the nearly £5 billion estimated cost of the central section of EWR2could potentially provide a far wider-ranging light rail/tram train type network[2].  This could encompass a reuse for this kind of transport of the line from Great Shelford to Haverhill (something that may be very difficult if EWR central section[3] goes ahead).  This wider solution has significantly greater potential to ease the congestion problems facing Cambridge and CBC than the EWR central section does.  Greater Cambridge needs transport solutions, not an aspirational growth accelerator (see (j) below). 

(d) The benefits EWRCo says it will provide are access to a wider workforce, increased availability of offices/wet labs, access to affordable homes and levelling.  These seem to me significantly more likely to come to Cambridge from the north and east than from the west.  As regards:  

i)        workforce – I have attached a diagram taken from the CBC Transport Needs Review which shows the origins of staff working at CBC (overwhelmingly hospital staff) by postcode, based on 2011 census data.   This suggests that some staff do, or did, travel in from the west (including Bedford) despite the lack of a railway connection and that the number of staff travelling from areas a roughly comparable distance away but with existing railway connections (Hitchin/Letchworth and Stansted/ Bishop’s Stortford) was not significantly greater.  The diagram shows a notable gap to the north west, but this may well have more 

2 See footnote 1 for source

to do with the fact that CBC hospitals were competing for staff with Hinchingbrooke and, at that time, Papworth Hospitals which were located in that area, than with the lack of a rail link.  More recent information suggests that a percentage of CBC hospital staff do now come from the Papworth and Huntingdon areas (this may well, in large measure reflect the opening of Royal Papworth at CBC).  I have also attached page 7 of the Greater Cambridge Housing Strategy 2019 – 2023, which does not suggest there is a particular issue for EWR’s currently proposed route to solve;

ii)         housing affordability – please see the attached map, which speaks for itself; 

iii)      levelling up – I have attached a diagram from the Government’s White Paper on Levelling Up published earlier this year.  On the whole, the left behind regions are north and  east (rather than west) of Cambridge. 

I am afraid EWRCo’s arguments do not convince me, and they should not convince you, that 

EWR’s central section has a business case.  They also did not convince the former Secretary of 

State for Transport, Grant Shapps, who made clear in the summer (in an interview with LBC on 11 July) that he would cut the second and third tranches of EWR thus saving £3 to 5 billion straight away.   Richard Fuller (MP for North East Bedfordshire) wrote to the then Secretary of State for Transport on 14 October 2022 asking for a full public review of the business case before any decision is made on EWR’s connection stage 2 and the central section.  He has also said that he is formally opposed to EWR[4].

(e) EWR’s central section is new railway.  However good EWR Co may have been at delivering the project on time and on budget so far (as they claim), they have essentially been upgrading existing railway.  The travails of HS2 show that new railway is much, much harder and that costs and timing can easily overrun by very significant amounts.  I also note that the Cabinet Office’s Infrastructure and Project’s Authority has given EWR stage 2 and the central section a “red” rating (i.e. it does not believe the scheme can meet its objectives on time and within budget unless risks are addressed).   

(f) It is quite clear that Network Rail and others think that the full benefits of EWR will not be realised unless it continues further east[5].  Steer, for EWMLP, has been working on a pre-Strategic Outline Business Case for the eastern section for some time.  Network Rail’s recent East West Main Line Strategic Statement is clear-eyed on the many difficulties of upgrading the mooted route (being the line to Newmarket) save that it doesn’t mention the large number of level crossings[6].   Further, the appropriate route beyond Cambridge will depend on the answer to (g). For example, a more regular light rail or tram train solution may well be a preferable one for the Newmarket line if it is to remain a passenger-focussed service. 

(g) It is still not clear what EWR is for[7].   Some still think it is a high-ish speed Oxford to Cambridge link, some that it is a commuter railway.  At a recent Bidwell’s conference, Will Gallagher of 

EWRCo conceded that it was about “place-making”.  I understand this to mean (among other things) that it is a commuter railway.  This has a major impact on the business case, as does the question of whether freight will be important to it. Historically, freight was important to the Varsity Line.  If freight is important again, and Network Rail is clear that it potentially is[8], the currently proposed southern approach is highly unsuitable as it would run through significant residential areas of Cambridge, close to several large educational establishments and ironically (bearing in mind that almost all freight is diesel) past one of the country’s leading heart and lung hospitals. There are also some very considerable issues with the Newmarket line, including the narrow radius chord at Coldham’s junction. From this perspective, it is worth noting that EWR Co itself appears recently to have pivoted quietly towards freight[9]  and has made clear it expects to have an 18 hour operational window for freight services. 

(h) The central section (and indeed the remainder of EWR) will not join together large cities or towns. Cambridge, as we know, is a small city and Bedford borough is roughly 170,000.  The two proposed stopping points between (Tempsford/St Neot’s) and Cambourne are growing, but are  not predicted to become large.  This is of obvious economic significance and, unless there are other reasons to run heavy rail (see (g)) or it joins more communities, EWR feels like a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  This is especially given its potentially damaging impact on South Cambridgeshire villages, which will see no benefit from it, and on farming and food security[10].  It also assumes that people will use EWR.  EWRCo have carried out a limited, carefully phrased survey which is on their website to bolster their position (see attached screen shot, which does not mention rail).  This contrasts with your own survey with a far greater number of respondents, which suggests that few residents in your constituency will use EWR regularly[11].   The radical bus network and sustainable travel zone proposals in the recent “Making Connections” consultation by the Greater Cambridge Partnership are relevant too.  EWR will not be able to compete on price with these.  

(i) EWMLP’s Building Better Connections the business imperative for East West Rail (“Building Better Connections”) makes some poorly-researched claims about the connectivity EWR will bring[12].  I was brought up in Hertfordshire so I can predict with some confidence that no-one would, in practice, catch a train from Welwyn Garden City to St Neot’s to take an EWR train west.  They would make the 17 minute drive to St Alban’s station instead. From Stevenage or Hitchin, it will almost certainly be more time efficient to drive to Luton station and use that route to get onto EWR westwards.   

(j) Cambridge appears to be very capable of growing by itself and it was widely acknowledged at a recent Bidwell’s Ox-Cam Arc conference that cities along EWR already are. EWRCo argues that it could super-charge this (the approach appears to be not predict and provide, but the fiscally irresponsible provide and hope).  There is, to my mind, a serious question whether if EWR were to succeed in increasing the growth rate (as it argues), Cambridge would overheat, with affordability concerns simply increasing in a vicious spiral.  There are, as you already know, 

significant issues with water and energy supplies in the Greater Cambridge area and deleterious impacts on the region’s precious chalk streams. 

(k) Cambridge South station is an essential addition to Cambridge’s rail provision and should be transformational for CBC, but it is a separate project from EWR and does not need EWR to succeed.  

 An Oxford to Cambridge railway line has nostalgic appeal and makes for good branding, but does it have a business case?  As regards the central section, I remain to be convinced on this and, if there is a business case, of the route that best serves its purpose, once that purpose has been clearly identified.   

2.  Community Liaison

EWRCo is not a transparent organization, both its consultations have been of a poor standard and it does not seem to enjoy talking to communities potentially impacted by the central section or see any need to keep them up-to-date in an effective way. 

The recent EWR organised Haslingfield drop-in is a case in point:   (a) I took a copy of the August FOI reply with me and asked the EWR representatives for programme and business case about its line “Cambridge Station and West Anglia Main Line £499,600,000”.  Each of them said they did not recognise it and had no idea what it related to[13].  I found this quite astonishing.  The business case person also said that the DfT “owns” the business case; 

(b) I asked why no drop-in event had been held in Great Shelford (every single proposal EWRCo has ever made runs through Great Shelford).   The answer was predictable warble.  The true answer is more likely that EWR Co assumes that holding something in central Cambridge is good enough, which it isn’t.  It simply demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the relationship between Cambridge and the communities in its southern necklace villages. 

The local representative groups recently established by EWRCo are another case in point.  EWRCo is either unwilling or unable to engage constructively with communities’ legitimate questions.  These meetings appear to be a “tick box” exercise.  In addition, the sparse attendance by councillors representing Cambridge City is interesting.  Two meetings were held for the city only group.  The first was attended by one councillor and the second was cancelled when no-one turned up[14].  The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the city is not very interested in EWR. 

Finally, Hannah Staunton (EWRCo’s Head of Communications) gave a notably unsatisfactory interview on Radio Bedfordshire on 18 October.  This is her answer to a question regarding when residents in limbo in Bedford will find out if their houses will be demolished. After expressions of sympathy, she said  “It has taken longer than we’d hoped…I don’t have a date for you at the moment, I am afraid.  We are still working on the feedback we received and we are looking at a number of other things as well… We are really are trying to make sure we are creating the best possible design that we can.. it almost goes without saying there are some decisions in central government that take a little bit longer to get through than we were hoping…..At the moment, it 

would be irresponsible of me to put a date out there”.    As you know, there are many people in South Cambridgeshire in a similar position of uncertainty as regards their homes, gardens or farms to those in Bedford.  Sustained pressure on EWRCo is required. 

3.    Improving Train Lines to East Anglia 

(a) I live in one of the better connected villages in South Cambridgeshire.  Not only is it an easy cycle into Cambridge, but it has a train station and a bus service (albeit subject to cancellations).  I nevertheless find myself driving more than I would like to.  For example, I would love to catch the train to Peterborough and Stansted Airport, but neither journey from Shelford is sufficiently regular or competes adequately with driving.  Even the journey to the airport, which is on WAML, involves a change if one starts at Shelford. 

(b) There are three problematic to severely problematic level crossings in South Cambridgeshire – one at Foxton and two in Great Shelford.  They are serious pinch points and need to be replaced with fit-for-purpose crossings of the railway line. 

(c) As noted above, there are a number of places which have stations, but very limited service.  For example, Bury St Edmunds has a population of over 40,000 and has good road, but astonishingly poor rail, connections, including with Cambridge.  Wisbech has no rail connections with Cambridge or anywhere else. 

(d) Network Rail’s Ely area capacity enhancement proposals would significantly improve connectivity and reliability for passenger services and meet the demand for more rail freight to and from Felixstowe.  They were not included in the Growth Plan and were, at minimum, rumoured to have been rejected by the Department of Transport in the summer, but are significantly cheaper and with more obvious benefit to parts of Cambridgeshire than EWR.  

(e) A comprehensive, integrated public transport system is what Cambridgeshire needs.  EWRCo’s lack of transparency and reluctance to liaise with anyone indicates that it expects everyone else to work around it and does not suggest it is approaching its mission with the open mind needed to make it a success.  There is a severe risk it will take a huge chunk of the transport budget Cambridgeshire might reasonably expect and make little, if any, real improvement to the trainlines to East Anglia.  

Cutting EWR’s central section is an easy win in these difficult financial times and I urge the Government not to hesitate.   

Yours sincerely 

Annabel Sykes 


[1] See attached reply of 17 August to a freedom of information request by Mohammad Attar (“August FOI reply”)

[2] An initiative which would be consistent with the Liberal Democrat 2019 Manifesto and was recently mentioned by Lucy Nethsingha – https://www.cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/cambridge-might-needlight-rail-after-all-says-county-counc-9277771/

[3] Revival of the link to Haverhill is supported by you, Lucy Frazer KC MP and Matt Hancock MP.  Cambridge Connect has been working with RailFuture East Anglia and others on developing tram train proposals, which can also run on existing heavy rail lines and thus avoid some of the problems identified for CSET2 (the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s partial solution for those currently commuting along the A1307) in adopting a rail route.  Reviving the Haverhill line would also give Sawston (a large village with a population of about 7,000) the station it wants and, unlike CSET2, serve the new Cambridge City football ground at Sawston.   

[4] Bedford Independent 24 August 2022

[5] See, for example, Network Rail’s East West Main Line Strategic Statement and EWMLP’s Building Better Connections

[6] See its page 61

[7] The Sponsor’s Requirements and Programme Wide Output Specification (see the relevant appendices of the Technical Report published by EWRCo as part of its 2021 consultation) lack clarity on this all important question.  They also assume that EWR must travel to Cambridge station.  Why?  There are already six trains an hour in each direction through Cambridge

[8] See page 61 of Network Rail’s East West Main Line Strategic Statement

[9] See this blog – https://eastwestrail.co.uk/latestnews/projectupdates/ourapproachtofreightjoannaanswersyourquestions

[10] See https://cambridgeapproaches.org/ewrimpactonfarmingandukfoodsecurity/  

[11] https://www.anthonybrowne.org/news/anthonywelcomesresidentsviewseastwestrail

[12] The example towns  mentioned in the next sentence already have direct rail connections with Cambridge

[13] My purpose was to find out whether this line item assumed grade-separation at Shepreth Branch Junction, which would be potentially devastating for Great Shelford and parts of Trumpington.  I am still in the dark on the answer to this question   

[14] The first meeting of the Cambridge City and Surrounding Areas Group was attended by some city councillors who appeared more interested in drowning out the inconvenient concerns of the southern villages than representing their electorate, the second of that group by very few

Another sighting of Nellie in the wild…
Categories
news

Reflections on EWRCo.’s Haslingfield Drop-In Event 12th October 2022

Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”

EWRCo. held their “no new information” drop-in event in Haslingfield, and they delivered as promised. There was indeed no new information about the proposed railway which has been blighting our communities since April Fool’s day last year.

Here at Cambridge Approaches we put in a lot of effort in to publicise their event (7,000 leaflets, 1,000 bin posters, social media campaign etc). We also invited the press along to see what was going on. This was the first chance most people have had to meet EWRCo. staff face to face. Why didn’t EWRCo. do any of that? The event was well attended and EWRCo., reported 550 attendees. Not bad on a working day for an event advertising no new information.

Illustration of the 10m high Embankments Proposed by EWRCo. for their Great Wall

Local farmer Edd also kindly parked his cherry picker outside the venue and set it to a height of 10m as specified in the latest Great Wall proposals from EWRCo., we also marked out the width of their proposed embankments to 70m. Seeing the height of it, the EWRCo. spokesperson was clearly in denial and was heard to say “it will never be that high”. We advise her to read her own consultation document.

In case they were in doubt about what we would like from them, hundreds of people had put out “Show Us the Business Case” on their bins along all the main roads through the surrounding villages and in Haslingfield.

Bin Posters “Show us the Business Case in Haslingfield and Surrounding Villages

And our request was answered. The business case appeared in the form of Nellie the pantomime EWR White Elephant with a price tag of £7.6billion. Interviewed in Radio Cambridgeshire, Nellie the pantomime white elephant welcomed EWR to the herd. She said, “Like all good white elephants, EWR is ridiculous and its costs greatly exceed its benefits.”

Steve also bought along a 3D map of the area so people could see what the effect of the railway would be locally. There was lots of interest from people attending the event.

Topographic map of the Haslingfield area with EWR proposals. This does not show what it would look like during the years of construction.

Meanwhile the Pantomime Continued in the Methodist Church

I didn’t meet anyone that was in favour of the proposed route, but maybe there were one or two.  Many residents were pretty angry, but we did not get to the situation reached at the Wyboston Lakes EWR drop-in where residents of the Bedford Poets area were so angry that EWR Co. felt they had to call in the police to calm things down. 

The drop-in meeting was bound to be difficult, since the interests of residents and the EWR Co. staff were clearly different and hard to reconcile. This was exacerbated by the policy of no new information sustained now for 18 months; the lack of briefing on predicable questions given to the EWRCo. staff and their generally low level of knowledge about the project. Staff turnover seems to be high and there were many new faces.

We had a de-brief session amongst some of the people from our campaign to exchange experiences we had had with the drop-in session. Here are some of the things we found.

Deflecting Questions

The job given to the poorly briefed EWRCo. staff was to stand talking to angry/upset residents for six hours while giving out no new information. Tough one that. Deflecting questions was therefore the core skill. Here are some of the techniques/answers that were reported on the day.

  1. I can’t answer that, I just want to build things.
  2. I’ve just been with EWR for 2 months, I’ll ask a colleague
  3. I wasn’t with the project then
  4. We are studying that
  5. Big infrastructure projects all do it this way, we’re following standard procedures
  6. Qu. Will you disclose the business case? Ans. The DfT owns the business case – Qu. but I asked DfT and they won’t disclose it because they don’t want to upset EWRCo. Ans. What was their exact wording?
  7. We’d like to publish the business case, but we are still progressing it
  8. We are looking at lowering the very high embankments
  9. On the subject of the route: “it has to go somewhere”
  10. You will need to speak to X, but they are not here today
  11. Qu. Can you find this out for me? Answer: “You need to use the normal contact point”.  Qu. “but I did two weeks ago and have not even received and acknowledgement.  Answer “Silence.”

Patronise

  1. I’ll talk to you when you have calmed down, I’m human and understand your concerns.
  2. There’s no point me answering that, you’re not going to listen to what I say. She then walks away and follows up with “Are you ready to talk?”
  3. ‘It’s not like ‘the Apprentice’ you know, it’s not a quick thing…it’s really complicated.

More Deflection

  1. We will compensate you if you have noise, vibration or mental distress. After [we build it] you will need to fill out a form to illustrate what is happening to your home and then we [will] evaluate it.
  2. We have already lost 10-20% of the value of our homes, will there be any compensation for that? – silence.

Conflicting Information

  1. On the question “Are you set on the southern approach to Cambridge? Answers included “yes”, “no” and “maybe”.

Waffle

These are best shown by example.

EWRCo. “We’ve made no decisions yet (route consideration). I wish I could tell you that but we don’t know. There’s business case with a capital B and C and business case with a small b and c. We don’t have passenger numbers but there are so many things to visit in the area we’re sure the railway will be used. Us: So the purpose of the line is tourism? EWRCo.: yes maybe..!”

On Radio Cambridgeshire the following morning, we were treated to the following. 

Dotty McLeod: “And in what way Hannah was it [the drop-in event] useful for you?”

Hannah Staunton: “It’s always helpful to be able to talk to the public, and really dial into some of the key topics and things that they’re interested in, that they could be concerned about as well. In some cases, it’s really helpful for us to be able to explain to people why some of the things that they are concerned about perhaps aren’t as concerning as they could be, or maybe talk to them about some of the benefits of the scheme that they haven’t otherwise heard. So, it’s really useful to gauge how people are feeling and what people are thinking, and then the team can go away and consider that as we go through the design and planning scheme.”

To be fair, we did not hear so much of the standard line “we are still going through the X billion pieces of feedback we received in the 2021 consultation and considering how every piece should influence what we decide” – or words to that effect. I guess even that does wear a bit thin after 18 months. In reality we are all waiting for the government to decide if they want to buy his white elephant.

Comment Please

Do join in with your experiences in the comments. If you actually learnt anything that would be even better.