Mayor James Palmer criticises Network Rail over £200m Cambridge South station price tag
The slow progress and hefty price tag that Network Rail is putting on a new Cambridge South railway station near Addenbrooke’s has prompted the region’s mayor, James Palmer, to label the organisation a “failure”.
The mayor is to meet next month with Jo Johnson, minister of state at the Department for Transport, to discuss a solution, with hopes of finding ways to get a station built – without Network Rail holding the reins.
Mr Palmer said he is not prepared to support plans for Cambridge South unless the 2022 delivery date is brought forward.
He said: “No one will ever be able to convince me that 2022 is an acceptable target date for the completion of Cambridge South station.
“Work should start as soon as possible and we should look to have it open by 2021.
“My focus as mayor is to try to find a way of doing this. Undoubtedly this will involve challenging the status quo and the conventional way of delivering rail infrastructure.”
In a letter to Mr Johnson, the mayor says he wants to explore “innovative ways” of delivering rail infrastructure involving third parties.
“My view is that Network Rail is a failing organisation and there are examples all over Cambridgeshire and Peterborough where its inefficiencies and inability to deliver rail infrastructure quickly has held back growth in our area,” he continued.
“The need for Cambridge South station is such that I have significant reservations about Network Rail’s ability to deliver on time and on budget.
“The total cost of the project has been quoted as being over £200million. The new arrivals terminal at Stansted Airport is likely to cost £100million, less than half the cost.
“I appreciate that it’s likely to be a four-platform station and is a busy line but I fail to see how that kind of price tag can be justified.”
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are working closely with suppliers and funders to deliver the right scheme in as timely a manner as possible.
“The current funding will allow us to develop plans for the new station, which includes exploring options for the track and station layout, while also considering how to mitigate the impact of a new station on other services in the Cambridgeshire region.
“While this work progresses, we will continue to work with stakeholders to identify opportunities for funding works beyond the development stage.”
In his letter to Mr Johnson, the mayor welcomed the £5million that government allocated to the project in the Budget, and noted that his Combined Authority has also made a contribution towards early studies to deliver the station on Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
He wrote: “In order for the Cambridge South station to be delivered within the next couple of years, it’s important for the Department for Transport to make clear to Network Rail how important it is for the project to be expedited.
“Due to Network Rail’s poor reputation for delivering rail infrastructure quickly, I’m keen for the Combined Authority to consider ways of delivering the station in an innovative way potentially involving third parties.
“I believe that delivering Cambridge South station should be far more straightforward than many at Network Rail are currently suggesting when time is of the essence to such a significant degree.”
Mr Palmer told the Cambridge Independent that he shared with Greg Clarke, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, his concerns about the project’s slow delivery.
He said: “I made clear my concerns about Network Rail and the timescales for delivery regarding Cambridge South station.
“Clearly the growth of Greater Cambridge is a key element to the overall national Industrial Strategy so he shared my concerns.”