Route Alignments

Rebuttal of EWR’s reasons for preferring a southern approach into Cambridge


This post looks at East West Rail Company’s (EWR Co’s) arguments for rejecting a northern approach proposed by CamBedRailRoad (CBRR) and to provide the evidence to rebut their claims.

EWR Co presented their reasons in chapter 16 of the Preferred Route Option Report, issued in January 2020. (Preferred-Route-Option-Report)

They briefly set out the historic development of the approach into Cambridge from the south – it was based on Network Rail’s assessment in 2014 which was never discussed or consulted on with the public. EWR Co state that they have reviewed this decision before the last public consultation and that it ‘appeared to remain sound’.

Chapter 16 goes on to infer that the public supported this approach. Cambridge Approaches have already reviewed this claim in a previous post (CA post – fair consultation) and consider it to be flawed. In essence, EWR Co stated that a third of responses did not express a view, with the other two-thirds being broadly evenly split between agreeing and disagreeing with EWR Co’s decision to prioritise route options that approach Cambridge from the south and so implying that there no significant opposition to it. In fact, Cambridge Approaches more detailed and specific analysis from parish councils (which we took as proxy for public opinion) shows that almost three quarters of these parish councils either expressed a desire for a consultation on a northern approach (54%) or that there was insufficient information (17%) to make a choice.

Before we go on to review EWR Co’s arguments, we note that they have specifically removed the chord (track connection) proposed by CBRR on Coldham’s Common claiming that it:

  • would not serve Cambridge Station (it is not intended to serve Cambridge Station, at least for freight)
  • it would increase the capital cost of the project (yes, marginally, but needs to be assessed against the overall cost of the entire route options which we believe favours a northern approach)
  • it passes through a County Wildlife Site (yes, but again it needs to be balanced against all the other environmental sites of each approach option – a northern approach won convincingly when this was done (CA post – environmental-impact)).

In fact, this chord is essential to enable a connection from the north to connect with the eastern section of EWR without freight having to make a physical reversing move. Removing it implies that they did not understand how the CBRR route would function.

EWR Co have five main ‘selection criteria’ against which they claim all options are assessed. They have assessed the CBRR route against these criteria and use them as arguments for rejecting a northern approach. The criteria are:

  • Benefits for transport users
  • Supporting economic growth
  • Supporting delivery of new homes
  • Costs and overall affordability
  • Environmental impacts and opportunities.

16.19-22 – Benefits for transport users

From EWR Co’s analysis of including the CBRR-proposed stations at Northstowe and Cambridge North into their transport model, their conclusion is that the transport user benefits of a northern approach are £200m greater than a southern approach!

They go on to state that approaching Cambridge from the north would require a reversing move at
Cambridge station for any onward journeys to/from Ipswich, and to/from Norwich and that this would increase journey times. However, EWR Co state in their Technical Report (EWR-Technical-Report)

‘Onwards services to and from the east of Cambridge (for example to and from Norwich and Ipswich) are not currently included in the indicative train service specification for EWR services and are thus not part of EWR Co’s remit.’

We therefore wonder why this scenario is presented as an argument against a northern route. If additional services are included at a later stage, it is equally possible that onward services to Stansted could be included for which the CBRR route would be considerably more suitable than a southern approach. And again, they have removed the chord on Coldham’s Common that would allow freight trains to avoid such a reversing move.

16.23-25 – Supporting economic growth

EWR Co’s own conclusion on this ‘argument’ states:

‘The economic and employment opportunities provided around Cambridge North station and the proposed Cambridge South station are considered to be similar in nature and scale.’

There is, thus, no case to argue.

16.26-27 – Supporting delivery of new homes

EWR Co state in their argument that a northern approach would support the delivery of 10,000 homes that are planned at Northstowe. As this is one of the biggest housing developments in the UK since Milton Keynes, EWR Co seem to agree with us that this is a most convincing argument for a northern approach.

They go on to state that:

responses to the consultation did not identify any additional housing sites that could be supported if EWR were to approach Cambridge from the north’.

Below is schematic produced by CBRR showing existing, proposed and putative housing developments in the area. The black line is CBRR’s indicative route. The size of the circles represents the population of each site. To be fair, some of these sites have only come to light as a result of the publication of the call for sites by South Cambridgeshire District Council and that publication post-dates the option E decision. But this is the ‘new information’ that EWR Co have said they would need to if they were to reconsider the approach into Cambridge.

At a stroke, this contradicts EWR Co’s argument regarding supporting delivery of new homes. The schematic shows:

  • more new housing developments along the CBRR route than along the southern Option E one
  • more developments to the north of the Option E area near Cambourne and so provides justification for a north Cambourne station
  • a void of new housing development sites over the bulk of the Option E area.

Worryingly, EWR Co further state that:

‘Moreover, South Cambridgeshire District Council stated a preference for a route via Cambourne (Route E) that approaches Cambridge from the south.’

In fact, nowhere in SCDC’s response did they explicitly favour a southern approach over a northern approach. They supported Options B and E because they wanted EWR to serve Cambourne rather than Bassingbourn, not because it approached Cambridge from the south. They have highlighted the lack of information which would be required in order to make this decision.

‘Acknowledging the broad nature of this consultation, limited information available and significant uncertainties around growth implications, it is considered that, in principle, routes including Cambourne as a station (B and E) could be preferable to routes including Bassingbourn, for the following reasons:’ [SCDC’s underlining]

This is hardly the support that EWR Co imply.

16.28-31 – Costs and overall affordability

EWR Co consider that the upfront capital costs of the CBRR route is £600m more expensive than a southern approach. Given that the new track lengths may be broadly similar (depending on which southern alignment is chosen) and that a northern approach has about one third the number of road crossings, no river crossings and easier topography, we consider that a northerly approach may be cheaper to build than a southern approach, even allowing for a station at Northstowe.

EWR Co make allowance in their costings for crossing a new rowing lake north of Cambridge. However, the planning application for this rowing lake was withdrawn about 18 months before the EWR Co options report was published. It is therefore not an obstacle to the CBRR route.

However, the capital costs are only part of the financial picture. Revenues are the other part of the equation. EWR Co state:

‘The CBRR-based route would generate slightly higher revenues than Route B. However, these higher revenues are mostly offset by higher operating costs and whole life costs arising from the longer route and additional station at Northstowe.’ [CA underlining]

The word ‘mostly’ implies that, in fact, the greater revenues from the CBRR route more than compensate for any EWR Co-claimed additional construction costs.

Further information is provided in our post: CA post – capital costs.

16.32-34 – Environmental impacts and opportunities

The argument presented for the environment just lists issues with the northern approach. It makes no mention of the environmental impacts for a southern approach yet goes on to claim that:

‘A higher level of effort is therefore likely to be required to mitigate the effects of the presence of multiple environmental features compared to route options that approach Cambridge from the south.’

Not only is this illogical as they only present one side of the argument, but it flies in the face of the Wildlife Trust’s analysis. This clearly shows [CA post – environmental-impact] that there are approximately twice the number of environmental sites affected by a southern route than a northern one. The conclusion that a northern approach is more environmentally friendly is supported by Natural England, Cambridge Past, Present and Future and the Campaign for Rural England support northern approach. These organisations, unlike EWR Co who are based in Milton Keynes and Westminster, know the area well.

Not mentioned by EWR Co, but vitally important to residents, is the relative environmental noise and air quality impact of the two approaches. There are approximately 7 times (yes!) the number of properties within 200m of a representative southern route than the CBRR route.


In summary, we believe that EWR Co have a poor case for their approach into Cambridge. Far from justifying a southern approach, the evidence that we have provided strongly supports a northern approach. We have pointed all this out to EWR Co both in writing and at a recent meeting with the rail minister, Chris Heaton-Harris. Despite Mr Harris requesting that EWR respond promptly, we have yet (as of 16 March 21) to receive any reply.

23 replies on “Rebuttal of EWR’s reasons for preferring a southern approach into Cambridge”

Option E: The whole thing is a non-starter – does not stack-up – flawed evidence full of “smoke and mirrors” – not honest to their policy – not supported by statutory consultees or the planners / interested parties of the public. This is not a “trifle” but a MAJOR PROJECT – EWR ….. do not seem to recognise this ….. hint to EWR …. why not listen to people to plan your project properly to correctly meet you policies and positive outcome? Think this needs to start at the top in EWR …. have you got the correct competent persons in place?

So grateful for the expertise and effort you have been putting into this matter. EWR stance on pushing southern approach seems extremely flawed and without logic.

Thankyou again for all the hard work you are putting in on all our behalves.
N. Andrews

EWR’s arguments against a northern approach are clearly flawed and providing misinformation in their preferred route option report to back it up is shocking.

EWR’s gross misrepresentation of its own data regarding the 2019 ‘consultation’ leaves them in a very actionable position. I would imagine a judge would look rather dimly on this. It will be interesting to see if EWR has learned its lesson when it releases its detailed route alignments that we are expecting imminently.

This also raises the issue of trust: can we trust EWR to analyse anything properly in the future? I’m afraid I don’t and would rather an independent body carry out any future consultations and analysis.

Lastly, it’s about time that the issue of Diesel got a proper mention. I consider it an abomination that this line will be diesel only. The line will be completed in 2030 and yet by 2040 to meet our net carbon zero commitments we will need to replace it with overhead electric, battery or hydrogen (no laughing at the back).

We should be building an overhead electric railway now and if that requires greater up-front capital costs then so be it. One thing is absolutely certain: retro-fitting overhead electric is always significantly more expensive. What this decision means is that we are asking the next generation of tax-payers to fund the ‘greening’ of a railway that we want to use now, but refuse to fund. It’s a disgrace.

Pop fact: published, peer-reviewed research states that 20% of all deaths globally last year were caused by air pollution. Not malaria, not cancer, definitely not Covid, but air pollution. You don’t need to wait for global warming to kill us, filthy air is doing it a lot quicker.

EWR cannot be trusted – they came to our house for Ecology Survey – plus quit a few other neighbouring houses – they have not provided any information on the result – they said they would! Everything else is “clap-trap”.

Natural England’s response to the 2019 consultation said “Whilst [we] have not undertaken its own environmental analysis of alternative route options to the North of Cambridge, these options may offer reduced environmental impacts compared to the five put forward within this present consultation. It is essential, and a priority, that a comparative environmental assessment is completed prior to selecting route options for consultation, and that the least-impact route on the environment is prioritised. We are concerned at the apparent lack of an environmental justification for the discounting of route options to the North of Cambridge. At this stage, alternative options with a reduced environmental impact should not be discounted and we look to EWR Co. to consider these as a matter of urgency. Pending a comparative environmental analysis of all possible route options, Natural England cannot express a preference on the route options currently proposed.”

Paragraph 16.33 of EWR Co’s Preferred Route Option Report says “EWR Co’s [environmental] analysis suggests there are a considerable number of significant environmental features in the area along the route, with potential impacts on the village of Oakington, loss of open green space, flood risk, and the Air Quality Management Area associated with the A14.” This paragraph suggests that EWR Co’s review of the environmental impact of a northern approach was cursory. The second and third of these also apply to routes through Option E, ten villages are potentially impacted by route alignments through Option E and the declaration of the AQMA pre-dates the recently completed A14 improvement works and may well be modified or revoked.

The Southern route does seem to be very convenient for the CEMEX Barrington Landfill on Chapel Hill – with the light railway access to Foxton. If freight access is not planned through Cambridge (and with the large amounts of waste currently leaving London by freight train) – though this doesn’t seem to get mentioned and wouldn’t be permanent in any case – though probably a good revenue stream!

Freight from London couldn’t join the southern route without reversing but could join the northern route. I’d expect most freight would be from Felixstowe

That’s the point of the Coldham’s Common or Ely Chord’s. There are solutions to these problems if you have a mind to find them. We put a man on the moon 50 years ago. This is soluble!

Excellent work as usual Cambridge Approaches keep up the good work.
The longer this goes on the more EWR arguments falter.

Thank you again for all your work and efforts. I can’t see how they can wriggle out of this. The settlements plan has to be a huge part of this. Quite astounding how they are handling this. You are doing such an amazing job. I can’t express my gratitude enough as I wonder where we would be right now without your expertise, motivation, tenacity and efforts.

Thank you for your excellent, detailed and informative communication with us all -very much appreciated.

You say that there is a “catchment void” on the southern route for new developments and show loads of developments near the northern route. Then claim 7 times more houses are within 200m of the southern route. Leaving out that this COULD be 7 houses v 1 (as no absolute figures given) when all the northern developments are completed surely the line there would be closer to many more houses than the southern?

Andrew The figures for the number of houses affected are given in this post. There are two cases (1) You choose to buy a house in a new town served by an EWR station – it will like be designed to fit in with the new railway and (2) an existing house perhaps not near a station where the train runs close by. There is a huge difference between these cases.

The post you link to above is flawed, and omits data that doesn’t support your case. For example your number of villages within 500m omits villages that are absolutely, and obviously, within 500m of the northern indicative route. For instance it passes within approximately 60m of Landbeach and extremely close to impington/histon yet you omit this so your “number of villages” stats appear better in your favour. Just look at a map of the size and shape of the villages and the proposed northern route. Shows the route map with the southern part of the village of landbeach overlaid. Accounting for the margin of error due to image zooming, this doesn’t appear to be a 500m gap, indeed there is virtually no gap at all.

Spot on Andrew. He’s really plucked that number out of thin air and distorted it for the reason you say. Everything he says that applies to the south, applies equally to the north. This will just turn into angry northern villagers vs angry southern villagers.

Your methodology doesn’t seem at all consistent. Putting that aside, how do you respond to the fact that a northern approach would have 800% more houses and buildings demolished as compared to a southern approach? That alone, coupled with increased journey times and (wet) ground conditions pretty much crushes any arguments in favour of the northern approach.

How do you plan on arguing against northern villages saying they don’t want this in their back garden either? 6 one way, half a dozen the other. It’s got to go somewhere.

Tom, 10 villages affect to the south, 2 to the north. The EWRCo. analysis of housing demolition depends on their unsubstantiated assumption that the route into Cambridge from the north needs two additional tracks.

NIMBYs: Cars are bad for the environment! We need more public transport capacity with greater accessibility!

NIMBYs: NO! Not where we can see it! Take that other route instead, the one that doesn’t affect us!

The destruction the older generation has done to us by inflating house prices and hoarding housing stock is enough, stop trying to destroy our ability to have any decent transport links too. Your campaign is just reckless.

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