East West Rail to take northern route via Cambourne into Cambridge, says transport secretary
East West Rail is likely to take a northern route via Cambourne into Cambridge, the government has confirmed.
It has been recommended to the Department of Transport as the preferred route by the East West Rail Company.
It follows months of campaigning by residents and politicians, who felt it would better serve the growing communities along the A428 corridor.
They also argued that the original plan to take the rail line via Bassingbourn was not necessary and would have caused significant environmental damage.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the news in Parliament, announcing that Route E was now the favoured option.
East West Rail Company’s route map suggests the line would head south from Cambourne, and could link up with the proposed Cambridge South station.
The government will now make a final decision on whether to take the project forward, and to apply for a Developed Consent Order.
South Cambridgeshire Conservative MP Anthony Browne, who had been calling for the switch, said: “I am delighted that the northern route for East West Rail via Cambourne has today been confirmed by the Transport Secretary.
“I have been campaigning for this route because it is best for local people, businesses and the environment. Commuters in Cambourne and the surrounding villages have been crying out for a rapid and reliable transport link into Cambridge and now they will get it.
“Residents in Bassingbourn will also be relieved. There is no commuter need for an additional rail link in this area and the environmental destruction of the would have been huge.
“Having confirmed this northern route, we can now plan other local transport links in South Cambridgeshire more effectively, so the whole system works together.”
Mr Browne has previously told the Cambridge Independent that he is keen to ensure the new station serving Cambourne is located to the northern side of the community, to prevent any harm to its green spaces.
East West Rail will link Oxford to Cambridge, via Milton Keynes and Bedford.
Its aim is to unlock the opportunity for more housing and jobs, and promote economic prosperity in the region.
Cllr Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, said: “It’s great news for Cambridge that the route that we and our neighbours at South Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire councils both supported has been selected to go forward, subject to securing government funding and a lot more detailed work.
“It will link Cambridge via expanding Cambourne and St Neots through to Bedford, Milton Keynes, Oxford and further west and north. This alignment also achieves vital connectivity with the main east west A428 road route and planned improvements there too. And it complements Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) and CAM Metro plans for a local, high quality public transport stopping service route west of Cambridge, being discussed tomorrow at the GCP Assembly and then at the GCP Board.
“Big questions now need answering by the government in the March budget. How much funding will government now commit and when it will be built given that we need rail not road to be the primary route for future passengers and freight?
“More urgently, we also need clear confirmation in the March budget when Cambridge South railway station will be finished as this is needed now, and which this line will eventually connect to.
“Along with neighbouring councils, local residents and businesses we will be contributing to the next East West Rail stage, when options for the detailed route will be considered and consulted on.”
The East West Rail Company said the route would link existing stations in Bedford and Cambridge with communities in Cambourne and the area north of Sandy, south of St Neots.
The preferred route option was chosen following analysis which found that:
- It would deliver the best value for taxpayers, returning the most benefit for every pound spent
- It was the most popular option with people who responded to the 2019 consultation
- It would deliver the best opportunities for supporting and enhancing the environment.
In addition to the new station at Cambourne, a potential new station could be built north of Sandy and south of St Neots, connecting with services to towns and cities including Peterborough and Doncaster - and could even link to Edinburgh.
The rail link will offer easy access to Bedford town centre, which could aid regeneration plans there, while supporting connections to the Midlands.
No detailed timeline has been published, but it has previously been suggested that the line could reach Cambridge by 2027, with the final section from Bedford to Oxford completed by 2030.
Combined Authority mayor James Palmer has called that timeline “optimistic”, however.
Simon Blanchflower, chief executive of East West Railway Company, said: “Of the five route options we consulted on, people were really positive about the one we have chosen.
“The line would bring people closer to opportunities for jobs and homes and bring friends and family closer together.
“There is still a lot of work to be done, including further consultations and engagement with local communities.
“Today is an important milestone for everyone living and working in the Arc, and for us at the East West Railway Company, marks the beginning of a really exciting new phase.”
East West Rail Company said it will now undertake a detailed process of land surveys to understand the plant and animal species, historical features and geological conditions that could affect the environmental or engineering decisions.
Landowners in the area are due to be contacted in the coming weeks, and local communities will be able to meet the team at East West Railway Company at a series of local events to be announced shortly.
Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner also welcomed the announcement and said it should lead to plans for an expressway linking Oxford and Cambridge to be scrapped.
Much of the eastern half - incorporating the upgraded A14 and A428 - already exists, but there is a significant campaign at the Oxford end to prevent the environmental damage a new road there would cause.
“The route presents major opportunities for jobs and housing and will help ease congestion in the city,” said Mr Zeichner.
“But let’s go further. There is an opportunity to be bold in the midst of a climate emergency and have an electrified line and put it in public hands and run for the benefit of the public from the outset.
“We also don’t need a road too. Indeed ‘England’s Economic Heartland’ has described that as a ‘20th-century solution to a 21st-century challenge’.
“There is no logic in building a huge new motorway when we should be promoting public transport use.
“So my message to ministers is scrap the road and make the railway the best it can be.”
The minister for future of transport, George Freeman, said: “East-West Rail has the potential to improve rail links to support opportunities for new housing, reduce congestion and pollution and unlock the economic potential across the region.
“By boosting rail connectivity we can improve access to economic opportunities for people in this area, and boost the quality of life in this vital Arc.”
The minister for East West Rail, Paul Maynard, added: “East West Rail could help us revolutionise transport in the Oxford-Cambridge arc, increasing people’s access to job opportunities while making travel quicker, cheaper and easier.
“Today’s announcement, following our £500m fund to bring back lines and stations lost during closures in the 1960s, shows we’re backing up our commitment to improving access to opportunities across the country.”
More than 3,500 people visited consultation events on the route last year, and 7,000 responded.
Details of the Bedford to Cambridge preferred route option were revealed in the week that the government opened a £500m ‘Beeching reversal fund’, designed at reconnecting communities.