Business Case news

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

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

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

When looking at survey results it’s good to know

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

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

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

What was the question?

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

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

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

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

Who was asked the question?

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

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

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

Who funded the study?

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

Please ignore this flawed study. 

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


11 replies on “The Savanta study: do people support the East West Railway?”

If people in the street were asked ” would you want 10 new hospitals
or rail extension that will loose huge amounts of money”.
I wonder what the result would be?.

I think your analysis of the ewr biased/leaning questions survey and “mathematically insignificant” numbers surveyed can be applied to great effect to their original survey regarding which route for Cambridge, Northern or Southern. They say there was a majority view for a southern route but when you look at how many people responded, between Oxford and Cambridge (also based against the number of questionnaires they claim to have sent out) and of these responses how many were for a southern route it works out as “mathematically insignificant” when based against the number of people along the route. Ewr figures are so biased and tainted they CANNOT be used for analysis of a multi billion pound project.THEY KNOW THIS BUT KEEP PUMPING OUT THE PR, MARKETING AND SMOOZE!!
The quantity and depth of opposition to a southern approach is testament to how deep the flaw/fraud/slew in their questions/surveys actually is- they know this but do not have ANY answers and blindly try and push forward.

If we had to have a railway……It would be much more sensible & financially viable to make the route from Cambourne north (on A428) into Cambridge via the north, where there is some infrastructure already. This route would serve more people travelling east to west. Connections to the north & south could easily be made from Cambridge north or city stations.

More deceit from EWR. They will publish rubbish like this because it is designed to suit their case but not the results of the public consultation because it will show significant opposition to EWR’s plans

The persistent misleading . Mismanagement poor honest public relations now leads us the public to believe that this company cannot be trusted. The destruction of the rural communities the destruction of peoples homes in Bedford the misleading of passenger numbers and the use of freight . The unbelievable costs of viaducts and cuttings . No thought give to how if in an incident accident derailment how emergency services could have access to attend . This is a poorly badly thought out project that needs to be terminated with immediate affect.

I am one of the many local constituents of the Cambridge South MP Anthony Browne, who has voiced my objection to the EWR rail route through my area, as where I live in Toft , is a conservation area.

It seems pure madness that public funds are being poured into the building of a rail link that only a small minority are calling for . Worse still it is undemocratic.
Small unrepresentative survey such as the Savanta report could about to a contemptuous dismissal of the public whose taxes will be used to subsidise this “Elephant White Railway” scandal.

At a time when people are crying out for better funding health care and education, why EWR?
Even on the rail front there is popular demand for the trans-pennine rail, or the northern extension of HS2.
Surely we are supposed to be a democracy?
The proposals for EWR are shrouded in secrecy known only to a small minority. This is setting a dangerous anti-democratic precedent.
Our MP should be standing up in Parliament and putting a stop to this nonsense- the question is why not?

As Churchill said: “democracy is not a perfect system of government , but it’s the best we have got”.
Cambridge deserves better than second best, we are a democratic country- let democracy prevail!

EWR – Biassed Survey but the rubbish suits their narrative so they publish … EWR commissioned a non-stautory consultation to which our community responded but the response has never been published – why? – we can only conclude it did not suit their narrative! What an utter shambles – we cannot expects truth and honour whilst they plan to unleash irreversible damage to the environment. I expect this is why they had difficulty recruiting and retaining a business case manage – truth hurts huh!

To demonstrate how opaque EWR has been about divulging this deeply flawed survey, as it has been about its Business Case, here’s how it came to my attention: Having first seen in EWR’s Dec 2022 Newsletter the statement that ‘71% of local people between Oxford and Cambridge think a new east-west transport link is a good idea’, I emailed EWR to ask when the poll was conducted, how many people were sampled, and how geographically representative they were of the Oxford-Cambridge ‘arc’. EWR treated this as a FOI request and on 13 Jan replied:

• The information that you have requested is exempt under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act. This is because the information is published on our website and therefore accessible to you by other means. This can be found here:

Despite what they say, I can’t find the Savanta survey on their website and if it’s there it certainly isn’t easily accessible. The obvious place for the website to showcase it is where they present the 71% approval figure in big bold font on in the section ‘The case for East West rail’ ( But no, EWR inexplicably doesn’t link the Savanta study there. Perhaps some of the other percentages claimed as positives were too close a shave for being overly sharing.

The Savanta survey was carried out almost a year ago (18 Feb and 10 March 2022) – why did we not know? Also, EWR tells us the 1000 local ‘residents’ polled included students – but these are a transient population, not residents in the accepted sense of the word. For this and the other good reasons argued above, I strongly endorse that this survey should be binned.

Hi All

Bedford campaigner here.. I came across your site while looking for more details on who funded this misleading survey.. Your thoughts and comments echo mine almost to the letter. Keep up the good work and keep pumping out the truth behind this project – a loss making vehicle to support massive prospective housing developments.
Few people who will be affected by EWR really understand the impact that the construction will have, the prospect of wasting over 4 billion on this farce is nothing short of scandalous.

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