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Cambridge South station scheduled to arrive in 2025

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James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Jo Johnson, minister for rail
James Palmer, mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and Jo Johnson, minister for rail

The government has set a target date for the opening of Cambridge South station of 2025 – three years later than hoped.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayor James Palmer has called the date “unacceptable” but is building support for an interim solution.

Following a recent meeting with rail minister Jo Johnson, the mayor was shocked to learn that the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail were working to a timescale that would mean at least a seven-year wait for the delivery of Cambridge South.

The station will serve the rapidly-growing Cambridge Biomedical Campus, which will soon welcome both AstraZeneca’s new global HQ and R&D centre and a relocated Royal Papworth Hospital.

It was previously thought that the target date for Cambridge South was 2022 because of a recommendation on the scheme in November from Lord Adonis, the then chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission.

Mr Palmer, who said he was “deeply disappointed” by the timescale, believes the station needs to be delivered much earlier and has pressed the need for an interim, two-platform solution which would see trains serving passengers by no later than 2021.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “Currently, more than 26,000 people visit the Biomedical Campus every day, and with AstraZeneca and Papworth Hospital moving to the site, the number of people working there will soon be well over 20,000. The station needs to be opened within the next two to three years.”

A report commissioned by the Combined Authority found that it would be able to deliver an interim Cambridge South station within two to three years while the DfT has committed to investigating how current timetables could accommodate passenger services from an interim station by 2021. The findings from this investigation will be ready by late summer or early autumn.

“The reality is that the Combined Authority is able to fund the building of the station and it would be possible for this station to be ready within the next couple of years. However, the key issue is whether trains will stop at the station. This is the issue on which I am lobbying for a firm commitment,” Mr Palmer said.

A fully-formed Cambridge South station is set to be delivered as part of East-West Rail, which will include four tracks and a four-platform station.

Contractor Skanska has been commissioned to investigate options for delivery of an interim station, including a two-platform, two-track solution, as well as a two-platform, four-track solution. In either case, the interim station scheme will work in parallel with, and facilitate plans for, the 2025 final station scheme led by the DfT.

“I’m convinced there is a way of making it work, as are the consultants we’ve asked to look into the matter,” said Mr Palmer.

The Combined Authority and Greater Cambridge Partnership have each put in £1.7million, along with £5million from the DfT to work up plans for the full station design, as well as other ways of financing the project including private investment. In the autumn the DfT will appoint contractors for design work and feasibility studies for the full station plans.

As part of the devolution deal, the Combined Authority is tasked with nearly doubling the size of the economy within 25 years, from £22bn per year to £40bn.

The mayor, who will meet with the minister every two months, is clear that a wait of at least seven years for the full station could stall the city’s positive economic growth trajectory.

The mayor said: “As I’ve said on countless occasions before, it’s of critical importance that Cambridge south station is opened as soon as practically possible.”

He added: “Though frustrated that at this time minister Jo Johnson couldn’t give me a firm commitment that the timetabling changes will be implemented to enable trains to stop at Cambridge south station from 2021, I’m hopeful that the study that he has committed to, exploring the possibility of an interim solution, will enable us to deliver the station years ahead of the current target date.”

The biomedical campus alone is currently the base for 17,250 jobs, which is set to rise to 21,000 by spring 2019, and up to 30,000 jobs by 2030. The number of visitors to the site per day is already at 26,500 and growing.

The recent interim findings of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) stated that if the Cambridge area does not receive adequate infrastructure investment soon, then its impressive economic growth will tail off. It noted that Cambridge has been at the centre of an innovation boom but notes that poor infrastructure has the potential to restrict growth.

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