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