Anthony Browne, MP for South Cambridgeshire today asked the Prime Minister to reassess the business case for East West Rail after receiving assurances from Ministers that East West Rail are considering the impact of the pandemic.
As part of Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Browne argued that much of the business case for East West Rail, which is set to be built across South Cambridgeshire by 2030, is based on outdated data on commuting.
Pointing to changes in working practices following the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Browne asked the Prime Minister to commit to doing a review of the business case of East West Rail to consider the long term impact of the pandemic, highlighting the Conservative’s historic commitment to achieving good value for taxpayers when it comes to such projects.
Earlier this month, Mr Browne also wrote to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asking the Treasury to review the economic case for EWR and to confirm any re-evaluation includes the provision for electrification of the line. In response, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has confirmed the “East West Rail Company has started testing the possible impact a long-run rise in working from home could have on the route”.
The Minister also confirmed they are looking again at the case for electrification along the whole EWR route so that it does not have to use diesel trains. “The case for electrification is being considered. A review is being undertaken by EWR Co, which is looking at options including full electrification along the whole route as well as various options for partial electrification using battery / electric hybrid rolling stock, and other sustainable rolling stock options” wrote the minister.
Mr Browne has since written to Simon Blanchflower, Chief Executive of the East West Rail Company, with a series of questions highlighted by the public as part of an ongoing EWR consultation.
Responding to Mr Browne, the Prime Minister highlighted the Government’s commitment to investment in upgrading the country’s railway network. With the backing of the former Combined Authority Mayor, Mr Browne has recently sponsored bids for new railways stations on existing lines at both Harston and Sawston, projects he is due to discuss with the new Mayor next week.
Commenting today, Anthony Browne MP said: “News that EWR is analyzing commuting patterns and properly reviewing full electrification is very welcome indeed. Electrification is essential if people are to accept this route and if the government is truly serious about phasing out diesel by 2040.
“However, I would ask the government to go further and fully review the business case for continuing with this section of the line. The pandemic changed the way we live, with more employers allowing people to work from home and more employees taking those opportunities. While I welcome the analysis of these changes, the Government should still take a wider look at whether this is in the taxpayer’s best interests.”
“My commitment to representing the concerns of residents is clear, including taking up this issue publicly with the Prime Minister, and I would reiterate my calls for residents to engage with the consultation. EWR needs to respect our views, ensure they listen carefully and promptly respond to those concerns.”
Link to video: Anthony Browne MP, PMQs Wednesday 26 May 2021.
Link to letter: Chancellor Rishi Sunak regarding the East West Rail business case.
Link to letter: Minister responds to letter on East West Rail business case.