East West Rail’ Co.’s Strategy Director, Will Gallagher recently said “with some uncertainty around the Arc of course we continue to look at our business case and when you lead into a big decision like route alignment we are also updating our business case that is something that is live as well” . That’s a good thing because, I don’t understand the business case for the railway either.
EWR is a 100 mph railway optimised for intercity or inter-town transport rather than local trips. I decided to see if I could understand the offer that EWR could give people for transport between Cambridge and Bedford. After the school run this morning, I drove from Cambridge station to Bedford Midland Road station. In terms of trip choice, station to station is about the kindest you can be to the railway since the railway then has no first and last mile penalty – road is usually door to door anyway. I left Cambridge station at 08:47 and arrived at Bedford Midland station in 57 minutes. It took a ridiculous 15 minutes to get out of Cambridge on the A603, then up the M11 to the A428. The traffic was flowing freely coming in from Cambourne. Then dual carriageway all the way to Bedford except for the Caxton Gibbet to Black Cat roundabout stretch. I arrived in Bedford, got off the A421 and onto Cardington road. I was held up by road works. The new Bedford Midland station is not on Midland Road, but on nearby Ashburnham Road. I have a video on my dash cam of the whole trip for what it’s worth. The Network Rail analysis (p.44) says 60 minutes peak journey time on the road and 48 minutes for the “generalised journey time” on the EWR (allowing for the time spent waiting for the next train). So EWR wins by 12 minutes (or 9 minutes in my case this morning). 10 minutes of those precious 12 minutes of EWR rail benefit will go when the Caxton Gibbet to Black Cat dual carriageway is built. I also need to allow for the time it would have taken for me to find a parking place at Cambridge station – there were none visible this morning, but there were probably some places further away. Then there is the time to buy a parking ticket and a rail ticket. Conclusion, even station to station EWR will not bring a time advantage between Cambridge and Bedford.
The marginal cost in my electric car is around 6p per mile. By the time the railway gets going, electric cars will hopefully be common and the electricity grid will be mostly renewables/nuclear. Looking at peak Thameslink return fares it works out around 55p per mile on rail (I looked at Bedford to St. Pancras and St. Albans to St. Pancras fares on line). Let’s assume that EWR will be similar (the cost per mile will be more expensive than Thameslink, since usage will be lower and construction costs need to be recovered). Then add the £12.50 peak cost of parking my car at Cambridge station. So, assuming a round 30 miles there and 30 miles back I get a £33 return fare + £12.50 parking = £45.50 by rail. By electric car it’s £3.60 plus parking – if I need it. In marginal cost terms, it’s more than 10x more expensive by rail (see note 1 below). But hey, I get to relax on the train and use my laptop.
This really isn’t a compelling proposition for a service with a £5+ billion capital cost plus the on-going subsidy which the taxpayer will continue to have to pay for operating the EWR. Would you invest in this personally? Well, we don’t have to decide because the Department for Transport will decide for all of us taxpayers, so just relax and keep paying the taxes.
Yes, there will be people that don’t have cars, that live and work near stations despite the lack of a regional spatial framework for the EWR. But as more and more conditions are needed to make the offer for EWR beneficial, the number of people that actually benefit from the railway gets smaller and smaller and the business case fades away.
 Westminster Social Policy Forum, “The Future of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc” 27th April 2022.
Since I cannot go everywhere by public transport, I have to have a car. Having bought the car, then I look at the cost of using rail in marginal terms as above. On the other hand if I could do without a car, then I would be deciding on whether to buy one. I paid around £20,000 for the electric car and expect it to do 100,000 miles. Add in £5,000 for servicing and I arrive at 25p/mile plus the 6p/mile electricity cost. Over all 31p/mile and still a lot less than rail. (Thanks to Anne for this aspect).
In it they compared the journey times from two sizeable cities on the line: Milton Keynes and Bedford; to a variety of other locations in a band from East Anglia to Cardiff and Southampton
a) by rail currently (mainly via London)
b) by rail after the Oxford to Cambridge railway has been completed (Configuration State 3)
c) by car at peak time.
They use a concept called Generalised Journey Time (GJT) which allows time for changing trains and the average time to wait for the next train. GJT does not allow any time for getting to and from the station or sorting out a place to park the car and to get a bus/taxi etc at the far end. That’s fine if you happen to live near a station and want to go somewhere else that happens to be near one. This is far from being always the case and I would estimate that on the average we should add around at least 15 minutes at each end for this. Travelling by car is a really tough competitor to rail as the data shows, especially in towns where local transport is not up to London standards – and that’s most of them.
The bar charts show the GJT after the EWR has been built from Oxford to Cambridge (blue); the reduction in GJT from before the EWR was built(orange); the transit time by car in peak times (grey) taken from Google maps and the difference (yellow). A negative difference means that the EWR is quicker than going by car, but as previously stated this takes no account of the time to get to the stations at each end of the journey. So many of the differences are in favour of the car. Cars are really tough to beat – or looking at it another way, our towns and villages are built around the car.
Network Rail make the case that where EWR might show bigger advantages over road (and rail going via London) would be on longer trips where the speed of the railway starts to overcome the overheads to get on it in the first place. However, EWRCo.’s current proposed service schedule does not include long distance services, you have to change trains to get on the EWR and change to get off it again. In many cases, these two changes wipe out the benefit compared to going via London. Network Rail recommend provision for significant extra infrastructure at Oxford and Cambridge to facilitate these long-distance through services.
This all seems desperately fundamental to the unpublished business case for the EWR.
Incidentally, Network Rail also re-state their ambition to have 50 freight trains per day on the EWR and as we have previously remarked this has not really featured in the EWR Co. design for the route although it does loom large in my imagination.
Recently, EWR Co. seem to be heading the other way and portraying the EWR as more of a local commuter solution for example in the press release associated with the appointment of their new CEO Beth West.
“The new East West Rail line currently under construction, promises new, much needed connections for communities between Oxford and Cambridge including Bedford, Milton Keynes, Bletchley and Bicester. The line will provide reliable public transport in the area – the lack of which is holding people back from enjoying their region, restricts access to good jobs and has created bubbles of inaccessible, expensive housing.”
If it has moved from a fast Oxford to Cambridge intercity service for scientists and business people creating new break through vaccines, to a local commuter solution, why have there been no changes to the actual proposals or the requirements from the sponsor (presumably the new rail minister)? I think this is more about presentation than substance. It’s still an intercity service.
I will be talking more about the EWR business case along with Professor David Rogers talking about the OxCam Arc at this event hosted by the Stop The Arc Group on Thursday 21st April at 7.30pm on zoom. Register on Eventbrite to attend.
Julia Virdee from Chesterton Mews, Bedford appeared on BBC Look East 18th March 2022. She was standing next to her home and explained to the BBC reporter that it might be demolished by the Bedford to Cambridge section of the East West Railway (EWR CS).
She said that she didn’t really understand why they were building the railway.
There are thousands of people like Julia all the way from Bedford to Cambridge. Some have the threat of compulsory purchase and demolition, many more have the prospect of living close to huge embankments and viaducts or the destruction of one of their favourite places. They all have the prospect of years of disruption during the construction phase.
Maybe you are one of these people, in which case this post is for you.
Here at Cambridge Approaches we have been trying to understand the business case for the new Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR since we started in the summer of 2020. It’s easier to live with the prospect of the arrival of the new railway in our communities, if we can actually understand the business case. If it’s actually about property agents, like Bidwells and their “unbelievable number of foreign investors” making profitable investments in the OxCam Arc then I am really not sure how that will help Julia. To be clear we are not against development in line with the average UK population growth, we just don’t see the need for the sort of transformational growth called for in the OxCam Arc project leading to a 50% increase on the population of the area by 2050 and this survey shows that we are not unusual. That’s what the EWR is there to support, if that’s not going to happen then the hugely expensive central section surely shouldn’t happen either.
We have tried asking EWR Co. and the Department for Transport for the business case, sending freedom of information requests, getting Cambridgeshire County Council to write on our behalf to find out the status after the no show in the autumn spending review and so far, we have not a lot to report. Essentially, they say “we are looking at it and it’s jolly complicated”. Also, that they are not ready to share anything. Reading between the lines, and speaking frankly, we think they are struggling to justify it. It’s not easy to make a marginal business case and the people working for EWR Co. must know that the jobs of people they work with may depend on it getting through.
The relentless BFARe campaigners in Bedford, hit on the idea of writing to the government via their MP, Richard Fuller. Apparently, protocol dictates that ministers have to reply to MPs. They actually got a response from the Rail Minister with new information. She was expecting to review the case for the EWR CS in May 2022 (see Figure 1). Blimey. Amazing.
So, obviously, we approached our MP Anthony Browne’s office, who said he was up for forwarding a letter asking for the business case and suggested that we ask around to see what other organisations would support it. The result was the following letter.
“To: The Rt. Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport by email
Dear Secretary of State,
East West Rail Central Section (EWR CS) – Bedford to Cambridge Business Case
We write as a group of parish councils, councillors, environmental groups and residents of South Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire and Central Bedfordshire.
We are alarmed that, despite the design for this section having been worked on for several years and construction costings having been produced, at no time has EWR Co. made their business case public.
In a letter dated 2nd February 2022 the East West Rail Team confirmed that “EWR is a key project for supporting the delivery of the Government’s objectives for the Oxford Cambridge Arc.” However, the flagship Levelling Up White Paper published on the same day makes no mention of the Oxford Cambridge Arc; and indeed, specifically excludes the Oxford/Cambridge/London Golden Triangle as a search area for further investment.
In January 2020 the EWR CS benefit to cost ratio was stated at an extremely low value of 0.64. Since then, a number of factors would lead us to think that the BCR can have only worsened. There is no housing planned around EWR stations in the update to the Greater Cambridge proposed Local Plan 2021; there is no published incremental business case for freight; there is no evidence that post-pandemic inter-city passenger numbers will be anything like as before and local commuter traffic numbers and patterns are unknown; the EWR CS was not mentioned in SR21. Lastly, the electrification or “hydrogenation” of the line will add significantly to the cost.
If this project is to continue then a positive business case needs to be published. If this project is not to continue then it needs to be stopped now, lifting a planning blight that impacts many communities, thousands of people and to prevent wasting millions of pounds on current project costs.
We believe that the time has come for EWR Co. to publish a business case; and the purpose of this letter is to ask you, as Minister responsible, to direct EWR Co. to do so.
List of Supporting Organisations
Arrington Parish Council Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trusts Bedford For A Re-consultation (BFARe) Barrington Parish Council Barton Parish Council Bourn Parish Council Boxworth Parish Council Cam Bed Rail Road Action Group Cam Valley Forum Cambridge Approaches Action Group Comberton Parish Council Countryside Restoration Trust CPRE Cambridgeshire and Peterborough CPRE Bedfordshire Caldecote Parish Council Clapham Parish Council, Bedfordshire Croxton Park Croxton Parish Council Croydon Parish Council Dry Drayton Parish Council Elsworth Parish Council Fowlmere Parish Council Gamlingay Parish Council Great Shelford Parish Council Guilden Morden Parish Council Harlton Parish Council Harston Parish Council Harston Residents Association Haslingfield Village Society Haslingfield Parish Council Hatley Estates Hauxton Parish Council Litlington Parish Council Little Shelford Parish Council Kingston Parish Council Knapwell Parish Council Madingley Parish Council Melbourn Parish Council Meldreth Parish Council Newton Parish Council Oakington Transport Action Group Orwell Parish Council St. Neots Town Council Stapleford Parish Council Steeple Morden Parish Council Stop The OxCam Arc Group The Eversdens Parish Council Toft Parish Council Trumpington Residents’ Association Wimpole Parish Council Yelling Parish Council
List of Supporting Individuals
Cllr Michael Atkins, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Sam Davies, City Councillor, Queen Edith’s Ward (part of the South Cambs. constituency) (Independent) Cllr Peter Fane, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Stephen Ferguson, Chairman Cambridgeshire County Council and Mayor of St. Neots (Independent) Kevin Hand, Ecologist, Board member and former president Cambridge Natural History Society Cllr Mark Howell, Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative)
Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, Vice Chairman, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Maria King, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Lina Nieto, former Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative) Sir Michael Oliver, Deputy Lieutenant of Cambs. and former Lord Mayor of the City of London Cllr Mandy Smith, Cambridgeshire County Council (Conservative) Cllr Firouz Thompson, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Ian Sollom, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Susan Van De Ven, Cambridgeshire County Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Aiden Van De Weyer, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Lib Dem) Cllr Dr. Richard Williams, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Conservative) Cllr Nick Wright, South Cambridgeshire District Council (Conservative)”
The team of us that asked for support for the letter found the process really heartening. We are so grateful for the show of solidarity. Organisations and Councillors all over South Cambridgeshire supported it as did people further afield in St. Neots and Bedford. We have different issues about the route proposals, but all of us need to better understand why this is such a good idea. We would be surprised if the government feel they can ignore this level of support.
There is a second aspect to the letter. If EWRCo. cannot justify the project it needs to be stopped, so that the blight on the thousands of residents is removed and the EWR Co. employees can work on a better project. Given the other burning issues facing the government it would be immoral to spend public money on a project that does not have a good business case.
The Cambridge Independent covered the story of our letter in this week’s edition. They asked others for their opinions. Solid support from the MP and the suggestion that other more local transport solutions be looked at. The EWR Co. spokesperson said “Business cases for major infrastructure programmes are complex and are developed over time, consistent with the large amount of evidence gathering that is required.” In other words the same old, “we are looking at it and its jolly complicated.”
But the EWR Co. spokesperson also switched from saying that the project was part of the OxCam Arc to saying that it “is an important part of levelling up outside London”. If EWR Co.’s spokesperson thinks that the area between Bedford and Cambridge is included in the levelling up white paper, then I don’t think they have actually looked at what it says. The diagram below is taken from the white paper and might help them.
Note that the Bedford to Cambridge region has zero measures in the bottom quartile.
Our letter was forwarded by Anthony Browne’s office to the Transport Secretary on 15th March 2022. Let’s see what response he gets.
If EWR Co. (and Network Rail before them) can’t justify the business case now after working on it for so many years, then the Bedford to Cambridge section of the EWR needs to be stopped.
 Incidentally, the median salary of employees at EWRCo. In the year to March 2021 was £90,000 up 20% on the previous year. See their financial reports on companies house. (p. 72).
During the 2021 consultation, Cambridge Approaches requested some more information from EWR Co. to inform our response. Despite considerable efforts from EWR Co. and ourselves, previous experience with trying to get useful answers from EWR Co. led us to try instead getting legal help from lawyers Leigh Day in drafting the key information requests. Around the time that the consultation closed, all our requests were refused. EWR Co. said that the requests were “vexatious” and “manifestly unreasonable” and that the public interest lay in refusal. They reached this conclusion not just by reviewing the actual requests, but looking at the correspondence that they had received from Cambridge Approaches and anybody they judged might have been in contact with us over the previous year or so. They also looked at minutes of parish council meetings discussing the EWR. It seemed anything but focussing on the information we had actually asked for. We appealed the decision after the consultation had closed because we felt that this information was still important and to give EWR Co. a chance to review their decision when they were not in the middle of the consultation. Unfortunately, their internal review response was very similar to the first one. We have referred the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office who have undertaken to review it. There is six month long queue at the ICO. Sadly it seems our experience with this process is not unusual.
I have copied the information that we requested in the letter drafted by Leigh Day below. What do you think? Are they manifestly unreasonable? Are they vexatious? Or were we just trying to understand the underlying information behind the options they had considered for the railway’s approach to Cambridge? I was there and can tell you that our intention was the latter. On our side we hope to resume a more constructive dialog with EWR Co.
Our Outstanding Requests for Information from May 2021
Request 1: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the “high-level environmental appraisal” of the nine Route Alignment Options and the proposed northern approach
Request 2: Insofar as it is not covered by request 1, EWR is asked to provide the information upon which it relies in concluding that it is “confident” that the detailed design can mitigate any impacts on the Wimpole and Eversden Woods SAC. Such information is to include the impacts identified and the mitigations considered.
Request 3: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the “operational analysis” on which it relies in concluding that the northern approach proposed in appendix F of the Second Consultation Document would require the provision of a four-track railway in section NA2.
Request 4: EWR is asked to provide the information upon which it relies in concluding that the Shepreth Branch Royston Line could remain as a twin track railway from the new Hauxton Junction to the Shepreth Branch Junction.
Request 5: EWR is asked to provide the information on which it relies in concluding that no “significant alterations” will be needed to the bridge where the Shepreth Branch Royston Line crosses under the A1301. Such information is to extend (insofar as it has been considered) to both a two and four-track approach to the Shepreth Branch Line and to the grade-separated junction that EWR considers may be needed at Shepreth Branch Junction
Request 6: EWR is asked to provide the information it holds in respect of any assessment of the number of properties that would need to be demolished if the portion of the Shepreth Branch Royston Line from the Hauxton Junction to the Shepreth Branch Junction were to require works to increase the number of tracks
Request 7: EWR is asked to provide any non-public information provided to it by Network Rail or other organisations, or any assessment it has itself undertaken, which leads to the conclusion that there may be demand by 2043/2044 for around 24 freight trains per day on the line between Bedford and Cambridge. Such information is to include any quantification of the current freight use of the Shepreth Branch Royston Line and the West Anglia Main Line.
Request 8: EWR is asked to explain the need in principle for the viaducts, cuttings, and embankments between Cambourne and Hauxton Junction on the southern approach
Request 9: EWR is asked to provide any engineering long section drawings which it has produced to assess the northern approach. If no such drawings exist, EWR is asked to provide (a) the length of viaduct; (b) length in cutting; and, (c) length on embankment of its proposed northern approach.
Request 10: Insofar as EWR has already undertaken this assessment, EWR is asked to provide a list of the roads which will be permanently severed or otherwise obstructed by each of the Route Alignment Options comprised in the southern approach (Cambourne through to Cambridge station)
Request 11: EWR is asked to provide the information constituting the updated “cost estimates” provided by Network Rail and Atkins referred to in the Second Consultation Technical Report at 5.4.12, and any such cost estimates produced subsequent to those referred to in that paragraph. Such estimates are not to be limited to the figures, and should (insofar as they exist) include the explanation of the estimates provided by Network Rail and Atkins
I am writing to you instead of Simon Blanchflower as I understand that he is retiring from his position at EWR Co.
Can you confirm that work on the central section (CS) of the East West Railway has now been suspended?
I ask because there are many people living on or near the preferred route that are now in a state of limbo, which they fear will drag on for years as dates in the planning process seem to be slipping and slipping. We need to be able to get on with our lives. Cambridgeshire County Council asked the Department for Transport a similar question after the Autumn Spending Review and as of this month have received no reply.
As you know the estimated cost of the preferred route in your words “matured” during 2019 as a result of more accurate work from Faithful and Gould. This resulted in a 3x cost increase for the preferred route area from January 2019 to January 2020. The benefit to cost ratio of the central section published in January 2020 was low and the following things have happened since:
Commitment to the EWR CS was conspicuous by its absence from the 2021 autumn spending review (SR21) which covers the next few years. In contrast, the work on the A428 was explicitly mentioned. This was flagged as a problem by the EWR ML partnership and the EEH both before and after SR21.
Significant additional work was identified in 4-tracking into Cambridge on the southern approach, together with 6-tracking and housing demolition in Bedford in the 2021 consultation document and no revised costing was published.
Considerable local opposition to the emerging preferred route has been expressed all along the route from Bedford through St. Neots to Cambridge – the petition for a proper consultation on a northern approach to Cambridge stands at over 12,000.
The wider benefits of the land value increase around new EWR CS stations due to the OxCam Arc look like they will not occur due to the shift in focus of the government to levelling up outside of London and the South East. This was confirmed by Mr. Gove on the Radio 4 Today Programme on the 10th January 2022. When asked about the much-delayed levelling up white paper, he said that the decision had been made at the time of the spending review and that the aim was to “get every part of the UK operating at the level that London and the South East currently do”. He also mentioned a preference for housing on brown field sites – hardly consistent with some of the new EWR station locations. Where does that leave the OxCam Arc upon which the yet-to-be-published EWR CS business case apparently depends? I note that the leader of the OxCam Arc team in Whitehall, Kris Krasnowski was redeployed to the Scottish Office in July 2021.
Local housing plans such as the one in Greater Cambridge have taken no account of the EWR CS station locations.
Passenger rail numbers continue to be depressed and there are continued signs of a permanent shift in behaviour after the pandemic to more home working. There are press reports of plans to lay off rail staff in their thousands.
No one has demonstrated that freight traffic on the central section will move the needle on the business case for the CS. However, freight, especially on elevated track continues to cause great anxiety for people living near the emerging preferred route, both near the proposed great embankments and viaducts and in the city and town centres. The emerging preferred route is really not great for freight.
Perhaps at the insistence of past members of central government, EWR Co. continue to emphasize the importance of rapid transit from Oxford to Cambridge even though common sense and I believe your own forecasts say that most of the passenger traffic will be local. As a result, the business case for a more local railway may be more favourable.
These considerations fuel my concern that you will not find a good business case for the central section. I look forward to your answer to my question in bold at the start of this letter.
If you want to make your voice heard about the OxCam Arc (of which EWR is a part) one thing you can do is to have a look at the 5 minute questionnaire put together by a group called StopTheArc – it asks some of the fundamental questions not in the official MHCLG consultation. They were kind enough to ask Cambridge Approaches to review it before publishing.
Still No Published Business Case
One of the things we do on this Cambridge Approaches blog is to ask questions about the business case for the central section of the EWR.
We know from EWR Co.’s Preferred Route Option Report published in January 2020 that the estimated total cost was £5.6Bn (having risen from £1.9Bn a year earlier) and, since we understand that this will be funded by the taxpayer, it’s not unreasonable for us to ask for the business case. For comparison, would the EWR Co. management team get very far in raising £5.6Bn on Dragon’s Den if, after working on their project since 2018, they still won’t share a business case with the people that they want to fund it? Put another way, they are taking us for granted.
For the record, the public line on the lack of business case from EWR Co. in response to our Freedom of Information request at the start of 2021, was that public servants need a safe space and that it is not normal for a business case to be published at this stage. People are sufficiently disturbed by the proposals so that they received 190,000 responses to the 2021 consultation, but it’s too early to publish the case for the project. Really?
This questioning of the business case was followed by Anthony Browne MP asking about the effect of COVID on travel patterns which will likely permanently reduce passenger numbers by 40% as people have learnt to work from home. EWR Co.’s recent video from EWR Co on the 23rd August 2021 talks about this problem (see 3:07 into the video) without any convincing resolution. Covid-19 will pass, but the technology that allows people to work from home is here to stay and employee expectations have now changed.
As EWR Co point out (video 2:36), the hope is that people will move into the area to live and work and set up businesses so it might be that this influx of people will to some extent counteract the others working from home. Indeed, the NIC report “Partnering for Prosperity” set out a target of 1.1 million additional jobs in the area by 2050 corresponding to about 2 million more people and 1 million more homes. We assume that the focus of this growth is intended to be along the EWR around the initial stations and any new ones that are added over the lifetime of the railway. (If not what is the point of the railway exactly?) The impact of this on existing residents will be higher than that of the railway alone.
The second EWR consultation ended in June 2021 and we still have a lot of unanswered questions. Looking at the consultation responses from bodies like the South Cambridgeshire District Council and the Cambridgeshire County Council, we were not the only ones with outstanding questions. You can read the Cambridge Approaches consultation response here and some others here.
In the Cambridgeshire County Council 2021 EWR consultation response we find the following:
Growth: The East West Rail Central Section should support growth and enable sustainable transport patterns to be realised from that growth. The detailed alignment of the Central Section should be considered alongside the consideration of appropriate locations for growth in the Ox-Cam Arc, and the appropriate scale of that growth. The strategy for station provision on the Central Section must be informed by the consideration of appropriate locations for growth.
This is an appeal for the route alignment of the EWR central section and its station locations to follow a co-ordinated housing plan.
South Cambridgeshire District Councils 2021 EWR consultation response says:
Significant further work is still needed to understand the localised impacts of the scheme, the options for mitigation, their effectiveness and implementation including the sequencing with wider strategic infrastructure and development.
Again, they are concerned that the railway is not aligned with the housing and economic plan for the area.
So, some of the outstanding questions centre on how the route relates to other plans for the area e.g. for economic growth, housing and local transport. Unfortunately for all concerned, the EWR Co. management team are not in a good place to answer these questions because they are being pushed by the Department for Transport to get the route defined in advance of key decisions by other bodies. This heightens the risk that EWR will not choose the right approach which will be to the detriment of its business case, local residents and potential users of the service.
Train Wreck in St. Neots
EWR Co.‘s Simon Blanchflower post consultation press release celebrated the scale of response:
The number of responses we’ve received, the breadth of information and level of detail they contain demonstrates the value of consulting with local people at an early stage, and the huge level of public interest in East West Rail.
But a strong response should not be taken as meaning respondents are in favour of what is being proposed.
We are surprised that EWR has aligned its preferred routes in close proximity to one of the largest housing developments in the East of England. None of the five corridors considered in the first phase of the consultation included this land, and the late inclusion has come as a shock to residents, housing developers and St Neots Town Council.
St Neots Town Council is opposed to the construction of these viaducts and asks EWR to urgently reconsider plans to align these routes with the eastern edge of our town.
EWR are proposing 12m high viaducts through St. Neots East reminiscent of the Great Wall they have proposed between Cambourne and Hauxton. There is also no station at St. Neots, maybe that is because of the Tempsford development, but since we don’t even have a vision for the OxCam Arc Spatial framework who knows? More to the point how do EWR Co. know?
Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (GCSP) Local Plan
On the 31st August 2021 an update to the local plan was published. It is currently under consideration by councillors and will not open to public consultation until later in the year (November?). The updated plan will run to 2041 (previously it ran from 2011-2031).
Figure 1 shows an overview map of the developments proposed.
Note that no new housing development is proposed around Cambridge South Station, despite this being one of the repeated justifications for the southern approach to Cambridge for the EWR. This diminishes both the justification for the EWR southern approach route and the business case for the central section of the railway. In contrast, significant new development around the northern route proposed by CBRR is confirmed and developments in Northstowe and Waterbeach are to be accelerated together with new brown field developments to the north and east of Cambridge.
The Mythical Houses Around Cambridge South Station
The myth of significant housing growth around Cambridge South Station has been discussed in a recent letter from a local resident to local District Councillors as follows:
“…the county council’s 2019 response to EWR Co (repeated in the third bullet of paragraph 2.3 of the covering note to the draft response) said ” The ability of EWR services to … provide for the very significant planned economic and housing growth in the south of the city including at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus”. This was an odd statement in 2019, given that the county council is not the planning authority, and it was, at the time, not evident from the Local Plan what housing development the county council had in mind in saying this. It appears even odder now, given the variety of housing development options under consideration by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning (“GCSP”) – see their November 2020 development strategy options assessments and the emergence of the North East Cambridge Action Plan.
In 2019, the constituent authorities of what is now GCSP made clear a new local plan was coming and that they would be looking at all reasonable development strategies and SCDC at least has repeated this point in its response to this consultation. Notwithstanding this, what the county council said in 2019 appears to be understood as fact not just by EWR Co, but also by EWR Consortium.
Among the papers for the EWR Consortium 9 June meeting (not, in fact, discussed) is this one under the heading “realising the potential of EWR” which says (emphasis added):
Cambridge South: Cambridge South [station] will be located near to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge Biomedical Campus – key employersand site for new homes in the south of Cambridge.Planned to open in 2025, the station will be on the Cambridge line and West Anglia Main Line, and should also sit on the East West Main Line once it opens a few years later.”
It goes on to say that “The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is working on the Outline Business Case…”. It is not entirely clear what this outline business case is for and could be a historic priority of the former Mayor because the next paragraph of the document mentions the CAM.
It is possible that all these statements can be traced back to what the county council said in its 2019 response which may have served to lead others to believe that there were likely developments in the south of Cambridge. It seems important for both EWR Co and EWR Consortium to understand the true position and the county council should take responsibility for doing this.”
Now would be a good time for EWR Co and EWR Consortium to review the evidence for the southern approach and the whole business case in the light of this new local plan since the local authorities are planning no new houses around either EWR station on the southern approach in Cambridgeshire all the way out to 2041. Do MHCLG people know better that the local experts about how best to develop Cambridge?
Conflicting Plans at Highfields Caldecote
One of the consequences of the EWR route being fixed in advance of related housing plans are conflicts emerging when the housing plans do come out. The detailed costing information that came out with the last consultation indicates that the preferred route had been established in outline all the way back in mid-2019. Such conflicts can no doubt be resolved by adjustments to the railway route or knocking down houses, but they are also symptomatic of the lack of co-ordination between EWR Co. and the other planning authorities.
Here is another example of the issue. EWR Co’s preferred route goes through a station north of Cambourne and crosses the A428 with a long, skewed bridge just north of Highfields Caldecote (see blue route in Figure 2).
However, the updated local plan has housing across the proposed route of the railway (See Figure 3).
Rate of Housing growth
The GCSP planners are estimating that to meet the demands of the local economy (i.e. the number of new jobs they foresee over the period) we need to add 1,771 houses per year over the next 20 years leading to a total of 48,794 houses from 2011 to 2041. This is a lot less than the 271,000 houses in the National Infrastructure Commission report (NIC Report) for this end of the EWR central section up to 2050.
It has been acknowledged that the case for the EWR central section depends on housing growth. For example, this is stated in the recent EWR video referred to earlier. In fact, it depends on the transformational housing growth put forward by the NIC report. However, if this level of growth is not going to come from the local plan where could it come from?
OxCam Arc Consultation
The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) recently launched a consultation to help them shape the vision for the OxCam Arc. In section 5.8 of this document there is a rather hard-hitting paragraph:
“5.8 In parallel to the development of the Spatial Framework, the government is also exploring options to speed up new housing and infrastructure development in the Arc to help meet its ambitions, where evidence supports it. This includes examining (and where appropriate, developing) the case for new and/or expanded settlements in the Arc, including options informed by possible East West Rail stations between Bedford and Cambridge and growth options at Cambridge itself. The government will undertake additional Arc consultations on any specific proposals for such options as appropriate. The Spatial Framework will guide the future growth of the Arc to 2050, including on the question of new housing and infrastructure and will, as part of its development, take into consideration any significant new housing and infrastructure coming forward to meet the Arc’s ambition.”
They are reserving the right to add housing developments around EWR stations including at Cambridge itself. One assumes that, coming from central government, they would not be small developments. As pointed out by the county council it would be better for the transport infrastructure to fit around the housing plan rather than vice versa. Similar problems occur with the sites for schools and hospitals if the funding and hence the location is controlled by central government.
The housing plan proposed by GCSP considers environmental aspects by choosing dense developments often on brown field sites close in to Cambridge itself. If instead the plan is to be driven by the siting of EWR stations then these benefits will be lost.
I was looking at the flow of water in the Cam this morning on Stourbridge Common near to Cambridge North Station. Viewed from a footbridge, there were various pieces of vegetation and sticks on the surface, but none of them were moving at all. A recent episode of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth explains why this is happening. The chalk aquifers that feed the rivers having accumulated water over a very long time are now running dry because so much water has been abstracted by the water companies to serve new houses. There is also a waste water capacity problem which leads to overflow events into the rivers. Plans to fix these problems are being studied, but are not expected to be in operation until the 2030s.
GCSP commissioned a study from Stantec on the Water Supply in late 2020 which states:
For water supply, over-abstraction of the Chalk aquifer is having a detrimental impact on environmental conditions, particularly during dry years that may become more frequent due to the impacts of climate change. None of the growth scenarios considered here offer the opportunity to mitigate these existing detrimental impacts. Even without any growth, significant environmental improvements are unlikely to be achievable until major new water supply infrastructure is operational, which is unlikely to occur before the mid-2030s. Therefore, this analysis has focussed on a “no additional detriment” neutral position. To prevent any increase in abstraction and its associated detrimental environmental impacts, mitigation measures will be necessary. All stakeholders agree this should include ambitious targets for water efficiency in new development.
If there is already a problem that won’t be fixed for 15 years why are we planning to accelerate growth in the area now?
There are also significant problems with waste water and flood risk downstream in The Fens. The campaign group Friends of the Cam has a lot more on these issues.
In summary, the business case for the EWR central section depends on the housing growth around stations. In South Cambridgeshire the updated local plan to 2041 has accelerated housing growth in Northstowe and Waterbeach new town while Cambourne, Eddington, North East Cambridge and East Cambridge have new developments. This is not at all consistent with EWR Co.s preferred route into Cambridge south.
The level of housing growth has been objectively assessed by the planning officers to meet the needs of the area although it is not clear how the water infrastructure will cope with any more growth. It is also not clear how anyone would objectively assess housing needs – it really depends what assumptions are made. Do we want this to be a high growth area if so why? Are we trying provide more homes for London commuters? Are we trying to encourage migration into the area from other parts of the UK and abroad? Which parts of the economy are we trying to stimulate? For more in depth discussion of why the OxCam Arc is not a good idea see this article. If you would like a say try filling in this 5 minute survey.
Will MHCLG add further housing via development corporations as indicated in their consultation? Well, speaking to Eversden Parish Council recently, Bridget Smith (Leader of South Cambs. District Council) reported the housing Minister, Chris Pincher as saying that there would not be houses in addition to those that the local authorities are planning for. It would be nice to see this in writing.
We conclude that either:
(A)There is no business case for the EWR extending to Cambridge on the southern approach because it will not enable much housing growth OR
(B) Central Government need to push through large housing developments around the proposed route of EWR over and above the needs of the local economy to service additional fast economic growth in the OxCam Arc not recognised by the local planners and to serve more London commuters.
Option A is a waste of public money, option B looks like being even less popular than the railway itself and does nothing for those parts of the county that need levelling up investment.
OxCam Arc Consultations
Given the above situation, one might expect that an MHCLG consultation about the OxCam Arc vision might set out some indicative scale of development around EWR stations. It is instead phrased around prioritising various features of the plan without really setting out the core proposition. See this brief BBC South News report for some detail on the controversy around this consultation. Perhaps MHCLG are taking it a step as a time, but they are so far behind EWR Co. that their spatial framework may not be able to influence the route of EWR. MHCLG’s consultation suggests development is to be set around EWR stations no matter how poor those sites are in planning terms.
We encourage you to respond to the MHCLG consultation by October 12th. The Stop The Arc Group have some great ideas about what you might like to say here, but please also use this post to relate your response to the EWR Central Section.
The Stop The Arc Group have produced a 5 minute survey about the OxCam Arc which asks people some of the more fundamental questions about the Arc. Cambridge Approaches had some minor involvement in the development of the survey and support it.
The article below has been written by an anonymous Cambridgeshire contributor who has a keen passion for, and knowledge of, railways. The previous article on this subject showed that the general capacity of the existing twin track between Cambridge Station and Milton Junction was sufficient to take the existing traffic, planned growth and EWR trains without the need for 4-tracking.
In discussions and correspondence with EWR Co, it was clear that they have carried out their assessment based on the current timetable. They claim that this showed that 4-tracking of this section of the track would be required. Our previous article suggested that this was unnecessary as the current timetable would change over the next 10 years before EWR became operational.
However, to address EWR Co’s specific concerns, we have looked at the issues that they raise with the timetable and show that, with a minor revision, even on this basis there is no need to 4-track this track.
EWR Co’s argued need for 4-tracking in the north of Cambridge in a ‘northern approach’ scenario – which underpins their decision to discount that option in the latest consultation – is based on concerns about interfacing with current operations. EWR Co have not published their full analysis, but state that they cannot fit EWR trains at regular 15 minute intervals alongside the existing timetable. While that statement appears to be technically true (in the most tenuous sense), the analysis presents here suggests that without context, it is likely highly misleading – and 4-tracking is certainly not the only solution. The issue is not too many trains, but a few quirky ‘symmetry breaking’ inefficiencies in the current timetable (particularly the fast/slow Liverpool Street trains). The immediate EWR issue can be solved by slipping a single hourly train by a single minute, and even if we are to future-proof to include the reasonable-worst-case scenario (including a variety of other future trains beyond EWR), only very minor tweaks to the existing are needed to make it work. Once Cambridge to Liverpool Street services are expanded to four an hour (expected in a similar timeframe to EWR’s construction), the asymmetry issues will have resolved themselves anyway – so it is illogical to let such quirks control EWR’s design decisions.
(I suggest you grab a cuppa and get comfortable before you continue, as this is quite a long and technical post)
I should start by saying that I’m not a campaigner and am not necessarily pushing for any particular outcome. Having seen the significant campaigning efforts of Cambridge Approaches, CBRR and others, however, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the ‘north vs south’ arguments from an objective viewpoint, to try and determine whether or not the proposed northern approach is actually a viable alternative. A few months of late-night analysis later, and yes, I do think there are – potentially – some aspects which may have been overlooked. I am not an industry expert and am of course willing to be stand corrected if I have missed something important, but am keen to open the discussion so that we maximise our chances of building the best railway possible. Although EWR Co have published many pages of technical documents describing the consequences of 4-tracking, they have unfortunately still not provided a robust technical justification for why they think it is necessary – instead simply claiming that they have “looked at it and concluded that it’s the only solution”. This makes it very difficult to peer review their work and assess the validity of their argument, so some guesswork is required in attempting to re-trace their steps. I’ve tried to present everything as clearly and transparently as I can in this document, so people can see the arguments for themselves.
If, as EWR Co claim, the only way to add four hourly EWR trains through Cambridge North is to add a second pair of tracks through the north of Cambridge, then the associated destruction of nearby properties and other infrastructure costs are very significant (as the infamous “appendix F” goes to great lengths to illustrate). These consequences feature front-and-centre in EWR Co’s justification for discounting a northern approach, and I suspect finding a way to avoid 4-tracking is at the core of the northern approach’s viability.
If my analysis has missed some vital other reason why 4-tracking really is the only solution, then the proposed southern approach certainly has its relative merits. However, there is still a possibility that as even more Cambridge-London trains are added, sending EWR trains into Cambridge from the south might mean it isn’t long before the track from Shelford to Harston needs 4-tracking, alongside grade separation of the Shelford junction, both of which would also be highly disruptive.
2. Mapping the new railway
In the vector diagram below, every line corresponds to a single hourly train in each direction at present (except for the orange freight line, which is just indicative of routes).
The next diagram is a best guess at how EWR Co’s proposed ‘southern approach’ might look. This analysis is based on an assumed 4 trains an hour, which would be in line with the busiest UK inter-city services running today. I’ve included the potential Wisbech line (either running from Cambridge or splitting from existing trains at Ely), added second hourly trains to both Norwich and Ipswich, and extended a second hourly London train from Ely to King’s Lynn. This gives us a reasonable upper bound for the next few decades to the north and east. I’ve not added potential extra trains south of Cambridge, such as the mooted services to Maidstone or Haverhill, or additional London services (at least three of which are included in Network Rail’s 2030/40 scenarios). There is still some uncertainty about how EWR would be timetabled: I’ve taken the ‘best case’ scenario where Norwich keeps its direct Stansted service, but otherwise 3 of 4 EWR trains continue to Norwich (1/h) and Ipswich (2/h). EWR, then, serves Cambridge South and Central stations with every train; Cambridge North only sees a single hourly EWR service.
Next, we have a potential ‘northern approach’. The same extra services are assumed as above, but EWR now arrives via a junction at Milton rather than Harston. There’s an optional station at Northstowe (and space still for one at Harston too), and 4-tracking may only need to go as far as Cambridge South. In this scenario, the ‘base case’ is that EWR trains all serve all three Cambridge stations, terminating at Cambridge South. There are options, such as linking with existing London (if electrified), Stansted and/or a reopened Haverhill line, or reversing at Cambridge in order to continue towards Norwich/Ipswich. It is a requirement that EWR’s design does not preclude the latter as an option, though it is probably not the most beneficial solution. Freight mostly avoids Cambridge via a new chord south of Ely. This would, admittedly, be expensive to construct (as it would include a new bridge over the Cam), but could remove freight from the single-track Newmarket route, reducing the need to dual quite as much of it.
3. Improving existing layouts
It is clear from the northern approach diagram that the section through the north of Cambridge is quite busy – so at first glance the argument for 4-tracking seems reasonable. But can it be avoided? The first step is to see what can be done, with only modest adjustments, to increase efficiency in that section. South of Cambridge (central) station we will have 4 tracks, a grade-separated Milton junction confers no additional capacity constraints, so the solution hinges on just the three miles of twin tracks between Cambridge’s central and north stations.
Two hourly Liverpool Street trains terminate at Cambridge North (except for 2/day to each of Ely and King’s Lynn). When they head back south, they block the northbound track until they reach the switch point south of the river. However, this can easily be avoided by moving the terminus platform from the west to the centre. Although it should not be necessary, the through-platforms could be doubled up: There’s space for the western one within the existing footprint, while a 5th on the eastern side will probably take a sliver of land from neighbouring properties. In the very worst-case scenario, if no extra land is available, then there is space further north to stagger northbound and southbound platforms. If, as has been suggested, the two Liverpool Street trains will in future need to continue to Ely, then a terminus here is not required, and either 2 or 4 platforms would suffice.
Cambridge Central is a large and complex station, currently having four terminus and four through-platforms (the latter all serving trains in both directions). The terminus platforms are all on the western side, so reversing trains again obstruct oncoming traffic as they switch tracks. According to Network Rail’s 2019 report, a southern approach would see a new island pair of through-platforms to the east, and 3-tracking to the Coldham’s Lane junction, as shown on the right in the figure below.
There are many possible iterations for upgrading the station in a northern approach scenario. The first obvious step is to swap Ipswich/Newmarket trains onto a new eastern platform. Without the need to weave Newmarket-bound trains across from the eastern side of the Shelford junction as they approach from Oxford, it should be possible to separate them entirely from other services via 3rd track to the east towards the Coldham’s Lane junction. Ipswich trains currently only dwell at Cambridge for about five minutes, so even with two or more such services an hour, a single platform and single track under Coldham’s Lane bridge should be sufficient, assuming most freight is diverted via a new spur near Ely.
It may make sense to tidy the central portion of the station into a pair of northbound and a pair of southbound platforms. In a similar approach to Cambridge North mentioned above, it might also be possible to allocate a terminus-priority platform in the middle (the current platform 7) which could eliminate at-grade crossings on the section we’re interested in. This platform could be extended to the south, to also provide a central terminus for trains from London. If the latter option is chosen, platforms 5 and 6 might even become redundant: paved over, they’d make the ideal location for a second station entrance, providing a much shorter route from cycle parking to the platform bridge, and additional income from renting out retail space.
It is worth noting that Cambridge central station is more constrained to the south than the north: the Hills Road bridge is just 100 metres beyond the end of platform 1 (and only four tracks wide), and the post office building & car park limits space to the southeast. At present, there is space for the existing platform island to be extended further south – though if the new eastern platform island were connected to the south, this option may become less viable. In a northern approach scenario, there is much better balance in the number of trains heading north vs south in and out of Cambridge, which should reduce the pressure on platform space and time from terminating services.
For completeness, we should mention Cambridge South. In the southern approach proposal, it has four platforms – two pairs serving ~14/h in each direction (plus any future London services). In a northern approach scenario it may serve slightly fewer trains, but some might terminate at the station. It should be possible for a single platform to cope with as little as 3 minutes between trains (see Tottenham Hale’s southbound platform 1, for example), but in the worst-case scenario a 5th platform may be required here, offering a central terminus and two through-platforms in each direction. Although there would be some opposition to encroachment on Hobson’s Park, the additional land and cost would be very modest (just the width of a single-track path, as the current proposed station design already has the requisite platform island). If few EWR trains terminate here (instead continuing south to a combination of Haverhill, London, Stansted or elsewhere), the chance of needing a 5th platform is reduced, but 4-tracking may instead need to continue to the Shelford junction – as is the case for a southern approach scenario.
With a little effort, then, it should be possible (if needed) to entirely eliminate at-grade crossings on the busy section we’re interested in, between Cambridge and Cambridge North. We therefore have a simple scenario of twin tracks, around a dozen trains per hour, and no clashes or constraints linking the two directions. Fewer freight trains should need to use this route (with as many as possible moved to EWR and an Ely chord), so trains should follow very similar acceleration profiles on this short, slow section of track. Nonetheless, we will still aim to ensure one oversized hourly slot remains for freight just in case (because getting as much freight off of the road and onto rail is very much to be encouraged).
If we look at the existing timetables, we see that the minimum gap between trains leaving Cambridge to the north is 3 minutes (xx:00 and xx:03 Cross-Country and Great Northern respectively). A 3-minute headway is also what’s stated in EWR’s requirements [Appendix B 5.7.2 of the latest EWR Co consultation docs] – so we can safely assume this is our minimum acceptable gap. Indeed, it only takes about 3 minutes between leaving one station and arriving at the other, so even spaced this close together, we should never have two trains between the two stations at the same time.
I should note that the Cross-Country train does not currently stop at Cambridge North station – so despite many examples to the contrary, such as Tottenham Hale mentioned above, EWR Co may still conclude in the worst-case scenario that Cambridge North requires expansion to twin platforms in each direction. This is an expense not required with a southern approach, but that’s only because in a southern approach few (if any) EWR trains actually serve Cambridge North.
4. Symmetry and inefficiency – the spectre of 4-tracking
In an idealised world without external constraints, 3-minute headings should allow for a theoretical maximum of 20 ‘slots’ per hour (up to 15 of which can be used if we are to stick within the 0.75 resilience requirement). With this in mind, EWR Co’s argument that even the 6 current + 4 EWR trains cannot be accommodated without quadrupling the tracks has led to much head-scratching. So, what is going on; how is the real world so far from ideal that we can’t even manage what is – without even considering future signalling upgrades – just ~50% theoretical capacity?
Although EWR Co have still not published their actual analysis (only the consequences thereof), I recently managed to speak to EWR Co’s Paul Sparrow via their live chat events, and obtained slightly more insight into their analysis:
“We have used some operations specialists to conduct the assessment using rail operations modelling systems in order to ascertain where we could get our 4 trains per hour onto the existing twin track WAML using our regular 15 min clockface service pattern. These results demonstrated that the white space, the space between trains, does not exist to allow us to get 4 trains an hour every 15 mins.” (Paul Sparrow, 29th May 2021)
This snippet of information, although still quite cryptic, is perhaps just enough for us to solve the mystery. The issue, I now suspect, is actually quite simple – and it’s all down to symmetry. Despite computational advances, building railway timetables is still ultimately mathematically driven by repeating patterns: it’s what the Swiss call ‘taktfahrplan’, or clock-face scheduling. Most train lines interact with several others along the length of their routes, and weaving all of these interconnected requirements together without clashes is much easier if everyone is dancing to the same beat. Although modern timetables may look quite random, they are essentially still just perturbations on an underlying regular symmetry.
We can illustrate this with a simplified example. Consider a railway line serving four locations: Appletown and Bananaville each need four trains an hour; Carrotbridge and Donutland need two apiece. Treating C&D as a single set, we can schedule these 12 trains at 5-minute intervals, with a pattern repeating every 15 minutes (left clock-face below). However, what if Carrotbridge decide they need their pair of hourly trains spaced 20 minutes apart? We start with Appletown’s regular trains, but once we’ve added Carrotbridge’s symmetry-breaking requirements, there’s no space left for Bananaville to have a train every 15 minutes. We can squeeze in the pair of Donutland trains, but the remaining slots are unhelpfully distributed – poor Bananaville!
This scenario is conceptually very closely related to the issue we have at hand. Carrotbridge in this case is represented by the Greater Anglia trains to Liverpool Street – and Bananaville is Oxford!
The two hourly trains from Cambridge North to Liverpool Street arrive in London at regular half-hour intervals. However, one of them is slightly ‘fast’ and the other ‘slow’: the difference is a modest ~10 minutes (~1h10 vs ~1h20). In order to make this work, 30 minutes after the slow train has left Cambridge North, the fast train…sits there for another 10 minutes, and then departs. By stopping at fewer stations on route, by the time it reaches London it has caught back up again to the 30-minute periodicity. On the return leg back north, the fast train arrives back 10 minutes earlier than its slow train equivalent would have done, and so it ends up sitting at Cambridge North…for yet another 10 minutes.
The other trains all tend to run at roughly regular half-hourly slots, into which it would normally be quite easy to add an EWR train every 15 minutes, because their symmetries are in sync. The Liverpool Street train’s timings, however, makes this simple task so much more difficult. As we will see, there are a few other minor quirks in the existing timetables too, all of which can be dealt with quite easily.
5. Building more efficient timetables
Let us consider how this would work in terms of timetables. We’ve removed all at-grade crossings from the section, and Newmarket-bound trains have been moved onto a separate track. This should make our task relatively straightforward, as we have a single stretch of dual track between Cambridge Central and Cambridge North, with one train simply following the one in front. This is the most constrained section, so if it can be shown to work then everything else should fall into place.
We can start with the current timetable, and then see how the new services might look added in the ‘white space’. In this example, a normal weekday between 1pm and 2pm has been used – the differences from hour to hour are quite minor, so a proof-of-principle assessment needn’t replicate the analysis for every hour of every day. Instead of showing you lots of graphs and lists of timetables, I’ll stick with the ‘clock-face’ diagrams from the Appletown example above.
In the clock-face diagrams below, each service is represented by a 3-minute block, during which no other trains may depart. In the current timetable, we can see the two closest trains’ blocks adjacent to one another at xx:00 and xx03 on the northbound chart, and vast swathes of free ‘white space’ in both directions. These really aren’t very busy lines at the moment, with a train on each track between the stations just 30% of the time! But as you can see, the pairs of trains to Liverpool Street and (in the southbound direction) King’s Cross are not nicely symmetrical, with the Norwich train sitting where one might expect the second Liverpool Street train to be.
Now, if we attempt to add four hourly EWR trains to the existing timetable, it might look something like the figure below. At first glance all seems fine, but on closer inspection one of the four EWR trains has been slipped by a single minute from its ideal 15-minute-interval service, in order to avoid overlapping with an existing train’s 3-minute window. Although you might think this a very minor issue – arising from an existing timetable quirk which will long since have changed by the time EWR is built – as far as I can tell (going by Paul Sparrow’s above quote), it is precisely this which has led EWR Co to claim that the only solution is to build two more tracks through the north of Cambridge!
Nonetheless, sticking for now with the nearly symmetrical EWR trains added alongside the existing timetable, what other services might we need to make room for in the next few decades, to ensure our design is future-proof? A second Norwich train is an obvious one: Northbound it can fit exactly 30 minutes away from the existing train; southbound we have to offset it by a couple of minutes from its ideal position (one bit of broken symmetry forcing another one). After this, there is still space for another half-hourly service (e.g. trains to Wisbech) – and we’re still within the 75% resilience threshold stated in EWR’s requirements [Appendix B 5.7.2]. In both directions, there’s an oversized gap left in the hourly timetable for even a very slow freight train to get through, although this should be avoidable in most instances as freight could travel via Soham or Newmarket instead. We could even (not shown) double up the Birmingham service (which some hope could be extended to Leeds in future), by simply moving the northbound freight slot to ~xx.45.
The figure above illustrates how a northern approach – and a bunch of potential other future services – could work, without any changes to the existing timetable, without any signalling upgrades, and within the documented requirements of headways (3 minutes) and resilience (25% unused wiggle-room), without resorting to knocking down any buildings to build more tracks. However, what if we absolutely must have a symmetrically perfect-to-the-minute EWR service? Or, indeed, what if we would just like to tidy up the existing inefficient broken symmetries, and thus optimise the potential capacity through Cambridge’s only traffic-jam-avoiding cross-city travel corridor?
Northbound, the solution is incredibly simple. The fast train from Liverpool Street (which is about to sit at Cambridge North for more than half an hour) can just wait for a single minute at Cambridge station. That’s it.
Southbound, we have slightly more work to do. First, we align the time for which the King’s Cross trains dwell at Cambridge. I suspect the reason for this asymmetry in the current timetable comes from train-splitting, but with platforms at Ely and Waterbeach due to be extended, Network Rail themselves expect that procedure to be phased out in the coming years. Next, we have the fast Liverpool Street train (which leaves 10 minutes later than symmetry would like), and the existing Norwich train (which is then in the way). A neat, symmetry-restoring solution (as shown in the diagram below) is to push the Norwich train back by two minutes, and have the fast Liverpool Street train depart Cambridge North 10 minutes early, and dwell at Cambridge for 10 minutes (where it will be overtaken by the Norwich train, and then continue to Cambridge South roughly alongside the EWR service on the quad tracks). This would only be needed until two more (slow) trains between Cambridge Central and Liverpool Street are added, at which point both Cambridge North to Liverpool Street trains can become fast services.
The Norwich train, in ensuring regular hourly cycles, has a few minutes of wiggle-room to play with, but in a worst-case scenario it might miss its Stansted spot – in which case its lost slot could be taken up by an EWR train instead. A slightly less neat, but probably still workable and arguably less disruptive, solution (not shown) would have the existing Norwich train unaffected, the fast Liverpool Street train leaving just a minute or two earlier than it currently does, and the second Norwich train 32 minutes after (or 28 before) the existing one. These solutions involve very minor tweaks to the existing timetables, none of which should have any further knock-on effects on other services.
The above is, I would argue, a reasonable worst-case scenario for the 2040s, and is still acceptable within EWR Co’s given requirements. However, I suspect reality will be less constrained, as there are a variety of possible options which would each reduce the number of trains travelling through the busy corridor.
I would be slightly surprised if EWR needed four hourly trains, at least for the first decade or two. Even the busiest UK intercity services such as London to Bristol only have that many – as does Cambridge to King’s Cross (if we ignore the two slow trains which offer no utility for intercity passengers). EWR only serves relatively small towns and cities, and long-distance trips across the country which really aren’t that popular (and are mostly already quite doable via London, especially once Crossrail is operational). Half-hourly 8-carriage trains would have the same capacity as the proposed four hourly 4-carriage ones, and as EWR doesn’t really serve busy commuter routes east of Bletchley (where it’s expected that another 2/h will run from Oxford to the Milton Keynes branch anyway), I suspect few would be very upset by a slightly less frequent service. Other than for a few select local routes (such as Cambridge and Bedford residents hopping on the train to Bletchley’s IKEA), EWR provides (at best) a modest improvement rather than a genuine transport revolution. Let’s just hope the trains have enough luggage space for flat-pack bookcases!
Next, it’s worth noting that Wisbech and King’s Lynn are a similar distance from Ely. The fast King’s Cross train, which currently splits at Cambridge (with only the front section continuing further north) could instead continue as one further north beyond the new Milton junction (where the track is less congested). It could then split in half at Ely (or the new Waterbeach station), with the front continuing to King’s Lynn, and the back departing for Wisbech three minutes later.
We could go further still. There are actually two routes from Norwich to Cambridge, of similar length. The route currently operating heads via Ely, but there’s another route via Diss and Bury St Edmunds. A direct train using the latter would either need to reverse in Stowmarket, or use a yet-to-be-built spur just north thereof. If a second Norwich train took this route, it would provide direct connections between Cambridge and Diss; Norwich and Bury St Edmunds. Moreover, while a large fraction of trips to Cambridge on the Norwich train involve people travelling the whole length of the line (with small numbers using intermediate stations such as Thetford), most Cambridge arrivals on the train from Ipswich come from Newmarket or Bury St Edmunds. Therefore, instead of having two Norwich trains via Thetford and two Ipswich ones via Bury, sending the second Norwich train via Bury may actually better serve passenger demand – as well as easing Ely’s congestion problems.
As a final potential tweak, it’s worth thinking about how to make best use of the station at Stansted Airport. Airports are the one location where direct trains are hugely advantageous, as swapping trains at intermediate stations is much more difficult if you have heavy luggage in tow (or are jetlagged!). However, the long single-track tunnel under the runway severely restricts how many trains can reach the airport. From Cambridge, two hourly trains make the journey – one from Norwich (Greater Anglia, class 755 diesel/electric hybrid trains) and one from Birmingham (Cross-Country, class 170 diesels). Could we use the advent of “Great British Railways” to shuffle rolling stock around, and thus find a way for these two trains to join together (at Ely or Waterbeach) and travel as one to Stansted? GA has a whole bunch of class 755s on local routes, a few of which could perhaps be swapped for CC’s class 170s – and I see no reason why the resulting 755 pair couldn’t couple together. This would then free up a Stansted slot, which (in a northern approach scenario) could enable an hourly direct EWR train from Oxford to Stansted!
If we put all of the above together in an optimistic scenario for the 2040s, we actually find ourselves with just a single extra train each hour compared with the current timetable (and even that is offset by an expected reduction in freight traffic, given a new spur south of Ely). I appreciate that at least some of the suggested optimisations might prove unworkable, but nonetheless it reinforces how many different options there are for ensuring there is absolutely no need to four-track through the north of Cambridge in a northern approach!
6. Has this solved the problem?
The above examples show that there doesn’t appear to be any fundamental issue with scheduling all the trains we might possibly need in a way which avoids the need for 4-tracking. None of the tweaks suggested should cause any knock-on effects, so could be achieved while keeping all other timetables intact. Passengers boarding at Cambridge North towards Liverpool Street may see their southbound journey time increased by a few minutes – but I suspect that is an acceptable price to pay, given that a northern approach (unlike a southern one) would bring a regular EWR service to Cambridge North.
However, it is worth stressing that by 2030 (when EWR is expected to begin operation), the current franchises will be long gone: The current Greater Anglia franchise ends in 2025, and Great British Railways is about to completely shake up the way franchises work in the UK anyway. As such, so long as the *principle* of operation is sound, it’s not really worth worrying in fine detail what the precise timetables will look like at this stage – because they’ll all have changed by the time the line is built in any case.
It is, of course, worth noting that even in a southern approach scenario, the frequency of trains will increase – and symmetry-breaking carbuncles, which massively reduce line capacity, will need to be phased out regardless. The Liverpool Street asymmetry will probably be eliminated entirely within a few years anyway, as we expect to require a new pair of WAML trains which terminate at Cambridge Central. With four hourly trains in total, the Cambridge North pair will almost certainly both be designated as similarly ‘fast’, At which point the whole asymmetry issue disappears!
When designing new, it is always better to start as cleanly as possible, rather than adding yet more mess on top of existing inefficiencies. As the existing quirks can be easily tidied up – and will probably need to be resolved soon anyway – it would be wholly irrational to base major infrastructure design decisions around them. Nonetheless, given EWR Co’s claimed arguments, I thought it useful to illustrate how I think 4-tracking can be avoided both in principle, and in practice around the current timetable.
I haven’t considered in detail the extra services to London which Network Rail’s forecasts indicate will be needed by 2040. Most of these won’t pass north of Cambridge Central, so will not affect a northern approach. Looking at NR’s worst-case 2043 scenario, the only extra services needed north of Cambridge are one or two more Ely-KX trains (which could be the Wisbech trains, already factored into my model) and extending the two existing Liverpool Street trains beyond Cambridge North to terminate at Ely (which would remove the need for a 5th platform at Cambridge North, but add no further constraint issues so long as the junction at Milton is grade-separated). On the other hand, they will add further pressure to a southern approach, which even with 4-tracking may find the south Cambridge corridor eventually becomes problematically congested – risking platform capacity issues at Cambridge Central from so many terminating trains, and perhaps a need to rebuild Shelford junction as grade-separated.
7. Concluding remarks
EWR’s Paul Sparrow has stated that the existing timetable doesn’t “allow us to get 4 [EWR] trains an hour every 15 mins” for a northern approach. The analysis presented here appears to confirm that this is technically a correct statement, but – unless I am very much mistaken – only in the same kind of way that I can say I was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006: It’s only *just* correct, and likely very misleading for them to have used it to draw the conclusions they have.
EWR Co claim that the only solution to the above, in a ‘northern approach’ scenario, is to 4-track north of Cambridge station. I disagree. The immediate EWR issue can be solved by slipping a single hourly train by a single minute, and even if we are to future-proof to include the reasonable-worst-case scenario (including a variety of other future trains beyond EWR), only very minor tweaks to the existing timetable – which will almost certainly disappear soon anyway – are needed to make it work.
If my analysis turns out to be sound, then I do not understand why EWR Co decided that 4-tracking (with dozens of demolitions, new bridges etc) is considered a lesser evil. I accept that there may be additional complications of which we are not aware, and which render the proposals in this document unworkable – but if that is the case, then they absolutely must be able to explain to the public why this is the case, and cannot continue to simply state “our modelling says it is not possible” without offering a technical justification.
If the timetabling issue can be resolved and 4-tracking rendered unnecessary, the question of a northern vs southern approach becomes much more balanced. I will leave it to others to expound the pros and cons of each option, but advantages such as keeping more freight out of Cambridge, EWR regularly serving Cambridge North (and potentially also London and/or Stansted), the option of a station at Northstowe (offering direct links to Cambourne, Oxford and Addenbrookes), an easier way to get the Haverhill line back up and running (without it adding even more N-v-S imbalance to the numbers of trains running through the Cambridge corridor), and simplifying the process of electrification between Oxford and Cambridge by decoupling from the Eastern section (not due for upgrade until 2040-50)…are all worth thinking about very seriously indeed.
On 20 June Kevin Hand will be doing a leisurely bike ride to some of the key wildlife sites mentioned in his Wildlife Impact Report for Cambridge Approaches and talking about the impact on them of the planned EWR Southern route and associated developments.
All welcome to come along for a chat at any point! 1030-1100 Nine Wells (Threatened) 1100 depart, cycle through Hobson’s Park (Threatened) then via Trumpington Meadows to the Granta at Hauxton Mill (Threatened) 1200 Harston church, walk to the site of the huge viaduct over the River Rhee (Threatened) Lunch break here. 1.30 Haslingfield church, walk to Haslingfield chalk quarry nature reserve and planned site of the Great Wall (Threatened) The orchids should be in bloom! 3pm Social gathering, Hare and Hounds, Harlton, in view of the southern route. 4pm Kevin will return to Cambridge via Toft village (Threatened) and Hardwick Wood (Threatened) finishing around 6pm
EWR Co’s decision to prioritise a southern approach into Cambridge primarily hinges on their assertion that a northern approach will require to be 4-tracked from the Milton junction with the existing West Anglia Main Line (WAML) into Cambridge. They also say that the existing Shepreth Branch Line between Hauxton Junction and Shepreth Junction (SBR) does not need to be 4-tracked but accept that this assessment needs further testing in later design stages.
It is vital that these matters are properly assessed now. To implement 4-tracking on either of these sections of existing lines would be extremely expensive. Major existing bridges would need to be modified or rebuilt and other infrastructure modified. If it is not resolved now, detailed design work would proceed based on a potentially faulty premise with the risk of locking the project into a solution that will lose valuable benefits of the alternative route.
To test EWR Co’s assessment, we have carried out our own evaluation of both their claims. We start by looking at the likely number of trains on the sections of the lines in question. We estimate the total number of trains likely to use the line including current traffic and probable growth for both passengers and freight. We discuss the likelihood of each of the scenarios occurring in practice and compare these rail traffic estimates with the capacity of the lines.
We found that EWR Co’s conclusion about the 4-tracking of the northern approach section NA2 is incorrect and that, for our estimate of the reasonable worst-case scenario, it does not need additional tracks. In fact, even with just traditional signalling there is likely to be sufficient capacity. With digital signalling, which is already specified by EWR Co, we expect there to be over-capacity.
Likewise, the southern approach section of the SBR line can probably take the reasonable worst-case passenger rail traffic estimate (which are based on Network Rail’s figures up to 2044). However, interfacing with the Thameslink services will impose severe restrictions on possible growth in traffic in excess of the figures shown due to anticipated expansion after 2044 as a result of the Ox-Cam Arc plans. The SBR line would not be able to accommodate EWR’s 6 trains per hour that are specified in the Project Wide Output Specification. The freight services estimated by Network Rail may not be able to be fully catered for because of limitations on the Newmarket line.
If EWR Co are wrong in their assertion that the SBR line does not need to be 4-tracked, the construction work that would be required exceeds the theoretical (but unrealistic) case for 4-tracking part of the northern approach.
The reasonable worst-case rail traffic scenarios for the northern and southern approaches to Cambridge are shown in Table 1. For the northern approach, we have considered the likely rail traffic on the critical section between Milton junction and Coldham’s Lane. All Newmarket trains would use platform 8 at Cambridge station enabling those services to avoid crossing movements between Cambridge Station and Coldham’s Lane. There is sufficient space in that length to increase the number of tracks should this be required.
The assumptions and data sources used in compiling Table 1 are discussed below.
We have not assumed any long-term change in the pre-pandemic forecasts for growth and and ‘existing’ services due to impact of COVID, even though this is likely to reduce the amount of rail traffic in the short and perhaps the medium term.
For consistency and independence, we have used Network Rail’s 2019 Cambridgeshire Corridor Study [Ref. 1] for assessing passenger and freight growth forecasts on the existing network for the two approaches. This will allow a fair operational comparison to be made between the approaches. We have resisted the temptation to consider in this assessment the beneficial effects (for a northern route) of an alternative future route via Newmarket for Norwich trains which has been suggested for many years, or the possibility of March trains splitting/joining other services at Ely. Combined, these could potentially reduce demand on the northern approach by 3tph. Nor have we considered the impact of a potential new Thameslink service between Cambridge and Maidstone East which may increase demand on the southern approach. Lastly, we consider that, if the Ox-Cam Arc proceeds as planned, there would be demand for even more Kings Cross services than mentioned in the Cambridgeshire Corridor Study with a timescale to 2044 only.
Future demand for freight on EWR is taken from a scenario suggested by Network Rail in the EWR Co’s Technical Report 3.10.7.
For a northern approach, EWR freight would be diverted northwards onto the WAML from Milton via a new grade-separated junction and then onto the main Felixstowe to Nuneaton freight line via a new chord just south of Ely. Any residual freight needing to pass through Cambridge would be planned out of peak hours.
Basic ‘open-track’ Assessment
In addition to the basic number of trains per hour that could use an open railway line, the capacity is affected by a number of other factors, including timetabling, any crossing movements between tracks, whether the section of track is between junctions or between stations and the mixture of freight and passenger services. We start by looking at the open-line capacity and then go on to consider these other issues.
(i) Traditional signalling
Traditional signalling systems would allow for about 15 trains per hour with no other compounding factors. This is based on international standards (International Union of Railways or UIC which is the international rail transport industry organisation); a headway (the time between trains) of 3 minutes, as convention and a minimum required by EWR Co (Technical Report Appendix B 5.7.2); and a resilience ‘safety factor’ of 0.75 (UIC Code 406 for mixed traffic lines). The reasonable worst-case scenarios for both the northern and southern approaches as shown in Table 1 appears to be within the capacity of the existing twin track based on open track conditions and traditional signalling.
(ii) Digital Signalling
However, digital signalling will be used by EWR [Ref. 2] One of the benefits of digital signalling is the additional capacity that it provides. UIC have shown that on main railway lines, the capacity increase of ETCS level 2 (with ‘block’ lengths of 400m) over ETCS level 1 could be about 37% [Ref. 3]. This is supported by a statement by Network Rail quoting capacity increases ‘of up to 40%’ [Ref. 4]. These figures should be used with care, but they demonstrate that there would be a real and significant increase in capacity. Even using a capacity increase of half of these amounts, the number of trains per hour able to be accommodated could be increased to 18 by digital signalling without the need for 4-tracking,again without any complicating location-specific issues.
Importantly, digital signalling will also allow bi-directional running on tracks. This can provide significant flexibility, especially at stations, for reversing trains.
Other Factors in Capacity Assessment
There are several factors that could reduce actual capacity on a line, including whether clock-face timetabling is used (which is it on EWR) and the number of crossing of main lines radiating from London. Below we only consider those issues that are different between approaches.
(a) The Thameslink Effect and Slow Trains
Capacity reduction can arise when other train services use the section of track and the times of those services are not possible to change. This occurs for the southern approach where Thameslink services use the track. This leads to tight and sensitive interfaces with those services. The result is that the existing 6 passenger services are almost immutable because they form part of the complex Thameslink network and the East Coast Main Line traffic. The complexity of Thameslink can clearly be seen in the map below, especially all the strands of services coming together in central London where it is planned to have 24tph crossing the Thames (which, incidentally, would not be possible without the capacity-enhancing benefits of digital signalling). EWR Co are very likely to be faced with predetermined ‘paths’ (planned slots for trains) at the Cambridge end of the route that do not mesh with their required paths elsewhere. This poses a serious risk to the effective capacity of this line, the outcome of which can only be resolved when timetabling of services is attempted. This is not the case for the northern approach.
If that were not sufficiently restrictive to the timetable, this line also has a slow service calling at all stations without a ‘loop’ or overtaking section for faster trains before they reach the East Coast Main Line near Hitchin. This means that timetabling for fast trains needs to allow for these slow trains, which will lead to greater gaps between trains. There are minimal such restrictions for a northern approach.
(b) Crossing Movements and Junctions
Crossing movements required across other tracks and junctions can also reduce the capacity of a line. In the case where junctions are flat (‘at-grade’), one train joining another line could have to wait if another train were using the section of track the first one wanted to use. ‘Grade-separated junctions’ involving ramps and bridges over lines significantly reduce this delay. The southern approach into Cambridge has two junctions (Hauxton and Shepreth Branch junctions) compared to just one for the northern approach.
The northern approach allows trains that are temporarily blocked by other trains to wait for a short time at Cambridge North station. This would allow following trains to also wait at Cambridge North (obviously on another platform) and so minimise any concertina-type delay. On the southern approach, conversely, delayed trains would have to wait in line between junctions, magnifying the impact of such a delay.
Operationally, slower freight and more speedy passenger services do not mix well. Freight on a northern approach (via a new northbound chord at Milton onto the WAML and then onto the Felixstowe to Nuneaton line via another new chord south of Ely), means that freight would have no impact on EWR operations in the busy section between Milton junction and Coldham’s Lane junction. Conversely, freight and passenger traffic on a southern approach intermingle, potentially resulting in less overall capacity. If the line were eventually used for even slower moving, heavy-haul freight, such as building materials, this would only exacerbate the situation.
For a southern approach, the Cambridgeshire Corridor Study estimates that the Newmarket line, even with the anticipated dualling between Coldhams Lane junction and Teversham, could accommodate 1tph for freight during off-peak hours. Network Rail estimate the freight demand could be 1.3tph during an 18-hour window (i.e. including peak and peak hours), assuming the scenario suggested by Network Rail in the Technical Report 3.10.7. This implies that there could be insufficient capacity on a southern approach for the anticipated freight.
Another operational disadvantage of a southern approach is that because freight needs to pass through Cambridge and Cambridge South stations, the problem of platform provision in both locations would be exacerbated.
What Do EWR Co. Say?
EWR Co have stated (Appendix F, 2.2.4) that the results of their analysis of a northern approach showed that there would be several conflicting movements between EWR and other services including:
Trains towards Ely and eastbound EWR services conflicting where EWR services join the WAML; and
Conflicts on various platforms at Cambridge station.
We find the first point hard to understand as there could be a grade-separated junction at Milton specifically to overcome this issue. We find their conclusion that the only remaining option is ‘to add two extra tracks to the WAML, making it a four-track railway between the new Milton junction and Cambridge station’ (Appendix F 2.2.10) curious when they could much less onerously provide a grade-separated junction at Milton than the 4-tracking option. Confusingly, they then state in Appendix F 2.2.12 that ‘a grade-separated junction is required where the EWR route joins the WAML…’.
The second point would be overcome by the construction of two more platforms at Cambridge station which EWR Co already confirm would have to be done (App F section 2.2.10). Interestingly, they fail to mention that the southern approach also needs two new platforms at Cambridge station (Technical Report 11.1.5 ). Indeed, as we will see later, there is more pressure on Cambridge station platforms from a southern approach because a freight service will need to pass through. CamBedRailRoad documents provide a solution without the need for additional platforms at Cambridge.
EWR Co state (Technical Report 11.4.1): ‘…it is most likelythat the SBR can remain as a twin track railway as there is sufficient existing capacity to be able to add the EWR services required to achieve the Project Objectives and leave spare capacity for an increase in services in the future.’ (Our underlining). So they have not confirmed this vital point before choosing a southerly route.
They go on to state: ‘The working assumption for the operational timetable will be assessed further in the next design phase to confirm that it is correct. The focus will be on timetable and performance modelling of the SBR to ensure that both the EWR and GTR services can run as required with suitable resilience to allow for delay, disruption, and updates to service patterns.’
They appear to acknowledge from the last statement that there could be a problem of interfacing with existing services but without being explicit about it. The Sponsor’s Requirements (App A, 5.3 and 5.4) oblige them, as far as practical, ‘to be resilient to any periods of poor performance on the wider network’ and to ‘isolate the wider network from any periods of poor performance on the Railway [EWR]’.
We consider that such a fundamental point as this should be resolved at this stage or, if it really cannot be resolved now, to base decisions on a risk-based approach (i.e. they should analyse the chances of success and the costs of each scenario) in making the choice between a northern or southern approach.
EWR Co mention that two more platforms are required at Cambridge station for a southern approach. This it is not necessarily just a case of removing some sidings to add an extra pair of platforms at the east of Cambridge station: the Royal Mail building really isn’t that far away, and may need to be removed or reduced to allow space for the extra switching tracks, particularly if another pair of side-by-side platforms are needed. Additionally, there is a very short distance between the platforms at Cambridge station and Hill’s Road bridge, in which space all the different platform tracks need to condense down to just four tracks. Indeed, that itself could become quite a bottleneck for a southern approach, as each of the various trains from London and Oxford terminating at Cambridge need to reverse & switch on their way back out.
Other Issues With Approaches
Although the above sections attempt to show whether the two approaches need to be 4-tracked, there are other arguments that need to be considered in the choice of route from a railway operations and cost viewpoint.
EWR Co state (Consultation Document page 52) that trains using a northern approach would need to terminate at Cambridge South station. Similarly, a southern approach would need to terminate at Cambridge North station since this area is also an important employment hub.
If EWR Co persist in their conviction that a northern approach would need to be 4-tracked south of Milton, a southern approach would also need to be 4-tracked to Cambridge North as it would carry at least the same amount of rail traffic. This means that, according to EWR Co’s logic, 4-tracking on this section would be needed whichever approach were adopted.
We fully understand some of the severe practical difficulties in providing this. But this underscores our assertion that the northern approach, by providing relatively easy access to all three stations in Cambridge, serves Cambridge’s employment needs better than does a southern approach.
2. Risk and Impact on Infrastructure
We have already referred to the risk of EWR Co being wrong in their future assessment of whether the Shepreth Branch line would need 4-tracking between Hauxton and Shepreth Branch junctions. If they were wrong, the structures that would require to be constructed or modified specifically for 4-tracking are:
River Cam crossing
Widened cutting E between Cam and A1301
The first two items are major construction works in their own right.
This list is in addition to those that are required even if 4-tracking is not required, including:
Hauxton grade-separated junction,
Harston level crossing changes,
A1368 bridge rebuild,
Hauxton Road level crossing changes,
A1301 (rebuilt bridge likely if grade-separated junction at Shepreth Branch junction)
Shepreth Branch grade-separated junction.
Clearly none of these 9 structures would require to be constructed if a northern approach were adopted.
Compare this to the two structures (the level crossing near Milton and the A14 crossing) that EWR Co state would be required if 4-tracking were required for a northern approach (which we, as detailed above, strongly refute). The other structures requiring modification (Fen Road, river Cam crossing, Newmarket Road and Mill Road) would need to be carried out anyway as a southern approach needs to terminate in Cambridge North station (see point 1 above). But all these works are less than those required for a southern approach.
This discrepancy in construction works between the approaches demonstrates EWR Co’s apparently sanguine approach to risk-based decision making.
3. Reversing Move at Cambridge
EWR Co have made much of the fact that a reversing move (i.e. the driver changing ends of the train) would be needed in Cambridge for onward eastbound traffic.
Two points are worth highlighting here. Firstly, it is not much of a penalty at all. A train approaching Cambridge from a southern approach would need to stop in the station for approximately 3 minutes before proceeding. For a train from a northern approach, the maximum time for the driver to change ends is about 5 minutes – a difference of some 2 minutes!
The second point is that onward eastbound passenger services are excluded from EWR Co’s remit. Although they need take such provision into account (the Sponsor’s Requirements 1.6 state that ‘Consideration should be given to the provision of or integration with services beyond the Oxford Cambridge sections…’), using this weak argument against a northern approach highlights their lack of strong arguments. It is especially rich when, in response to our queries about the problems that a southern approach would cause with freight east of Cambridge, EWR Co claim that it is not within their scope.
The northern approach would not need to be 4-tracked between Milton junction and Cambridge station for the predicted maximum amount of rail traffic including future expansion of services to Wisbech and Norwich. As a result of digital signalling, it could also cater for EWR Co’s aspiration of 6tph. EWR Co have appeared to ignore a grade-separated junction at Milton in their analysis of 4-tracking of this section.
It is not certain whether the southern approach between Hauxton and Shepreth Branch junctions (SBR line) can take any growth in passenger rail traffic beyond EWR’s 4tph until further timetabling work has been carried out by EWR Co. This is because of the severe constraints imposed by Thameslink and other services using the line. It would certainly not be able to provide capacity for the 6tph EWR services stated in the PWOS. This lack of flexibility to provide for growth is contrary to the Sponsor’s Requirements.
If EWR Co’s future assessment of the SBR line shows that they do require to 4-track it, the construction works required is likely to exceed the theoretical additional works required for 4-tracking the northern approach (as stated in conclusion 1, they are not actually required).
EWR Co have not been transparent about the adverse impact of freight using a southern approach on railway operations.