East-West Rail (EWR) is a major infrasturtcure project to establish a railway connecting East Anglia with the West of England, linking Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Milton Keynes and Bedford. The Government approved the Western section (from Oxford to Bedford) in November 2011, with the Bedford to Cambridge or Central section is currently being developed, with the Eastern section expected to continue from Cambridge to Norwich, Felixstowe and Ipswich on existing lines.
On 30 January 2020, the East West Railway Company announced its preferred route for the Bedford–Cambridge section, known as Corridor E. In relation to South Cambridgeshire, this would include a new railway station in the vecinity of Cambourne, before running South East and into thea new Cambridge South Station which was announced in the budget of 11 March 2020.
There has since been considerable local campaigning activity regarding the specific route alignment. Anthony has been clear in pushing for a station to the north of Cambourne, a position he held during the General Election campaign, although the exact position of the station would remain a matter for EWR and their engineers. He has also called upon the EWR Company to consider and consult upon the alternative northern route, and they have indicated that they are open to doing so.
However, it should be made clear that none of the above should be taken as any indication that Anthony personally supports one route above others. His aim is to ensure transparency and give constituents the confidence that they are part of the process – we need a full, frank, and honest conversation in which all views are listened to and understood.
Below is a summary of the major concerns that have been brought to Anthony's attention and details of his campaigning efforts. If you have any further questions, please contact email@example.com or via the contact form.
Route alignment options
Corridor E would see a new station at Cambourne (the location of this is still be determined – Anthony has pushed for it to be north of the town) and then the line would drop down to the south east and approach Cambridge via the new Cambridge South station (you can see an interactive map of corridor E here). The exact alignment of the route within that corridor has not yet been decided. Several options will be put out to a further public consultation, which is due to commence shortly.
There is, however, a growing call from residents, local campaign groups (most notably Cambridge Approaches and CamBed Railroad), parish councils, environmental and business groups to push EWR to give full consideration to an alternative route. This route would align with the A428 after Cambourne and then head north of the city, approaching Cambridge via Cambridge North station. It has been suggested that this route would be less environmentally damaging and would make a better business case, because it would support the current and planned development to the north of Cambridge. It has also been suggested that this route would make more sense for freight movements between Felixstowe and the midlands, which I will say more on below.
In order to ensure that both the northern and southern options are properly considered and consulted on, Anthony has taken the following actions:
- Writing in January 2020 to the Secretary of State for Transport and raised the matter of the northern approach being considered. You can see a copy of his response below or here.
- Writing in October 2020 to EWR’s Chief Executive Officer to ask what consideration had been given to the northern approach. A public copy of my letter his response can be found below or seen here.
- Mr Blanchflower confirmed that a northern route had been considered at an early stage and in 2019, but EWR concluded that a southern approach was preferable. He also stated that EWR will ‘back-check’ their decisions at appropriate points to confirm that the southern approach continues to be the best option.
- Writing to Mr Blanchflower again in January 2021 to request clarification of what this process involves. This correspondence will be published when a response is received.
- Writing to the Rail Minister in January 2021to urge him to ensure that EWR consults on a northern approach. Again, this correspondence will be published when a response is received.
- Facilitated and attended many meetings with local residents, representatives, campaign groups and EWR officials to better understand the views of local people.
Anthony is keen to facilitate a dialogue between EWR and residents and will continue to do so, as well as pushing for proper consideration of the northern approach for EWR and adding his voice to the call for this to be included in any public consultation.
There is understandable concern about EWR being used for freight movements and the consequent impact of noise and vibration on nearby homes. EWR is quite definite that the line will be passenger-focused, with four trains an hour. With this frequency of passenger services, it would be difficult to run freight trains (which travel at lower speeds) throughout the day. It is important to note that EWR has been created to build a passenger service and it does not fall within its remit to decide how much, if any, freight would be transported on the line. What they have been instructed to do is build a line that is capable of transporting freight. Given the environmental advantages of shifting freight from road to rail, this makes sense, but it also means that the issue of freight must be a key determinant in choosing the best route alignment for EWR.
Last year, Network Rail published a study on freight that mentioned the possibility of 50 trains per day being diverted via EWR. Anthony wrote to Network Rail in January 2021 to ask for clarification of this report. The letter and Network Rail’s response can be seen here.
It is not clear from Network Rail’s response what the anticipated volumes of freight might be. Anthony has therefore written to the Rail Minister to ask what his department’s plans and aspirations are for freight. This correspondence will be published when a response is received.
EWR has confirmed that the issue of freight will be included in the next phase of the consultation process, which is due to start in the next few weeks.
EWR has confirmed that the initial usage of diesel engines has been considered, particularly for the earlier phase of the project that will be operational before the Bedford to Cambridge section opens. To deliver on commitments to be carbon neutral, EWR should be electrified from the outset unless there is a clear plan to adopt an alternative green technology that does not require electrification. EWR’s Chief Executive Simon Blanchflower has confirmed that they are actively engaged in looking at new technologies to enable this.
One of key issues with East West Rail is blight policy - how much people will be compensated if their homes become difficult to sell because of the possibility of building a railway nearby. Other new railways have been slow at announcing blight policies, causing massive and unnecessary harm to people needing to move.
Anthony discussed the issue with Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, and wrote to East West Rail about this, copies of which can be found below. The Chief Executive of EWR replied confirming they will publish their blight policy at the same time as they consult on the possible routes early next year. Assuming the policy is generous enough, this will ensure that affected homeowners don’t find themselves trapped by blight, unable to sell their homes.
The final matter I would like to address is consultation. Concerns have been raised with me about a lack of prior consultation with communities affected by EWR’s preferred route E corridor. EWR’s process to date is set out on their website here. It included a number of events, details of which can be seen here. This exercise pre-dated my election as an MP, but I am aware of local parish councils that did engage with this process.
There will be two further public consultations. The next will be a second ‘non-statutory’ consultation to help to choose a route alignment. EWR has advised me that this will include a leaflet delivery to all areas affected by the proposed route alignment options. Following that, there will be a statutory public consultation on the selected route alignment. The whole process is set out by EWR here. For my part, I will continue do whatever I can to ensure that the consultation process is as full and transparent as possible as decisions on this important project are made in the coming months.