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Why East West Rail Company says it is rejecting a northern route into Cambridge





East West Rail Company has released further detail on its reasons for rejecting a northern approach into Cambridge for the new line.

Campaigners’ hopes were dashed last week when all five routes from Bedford to Cambridge released in consultation documents showed a southern route into the planned Cambridge South station.

East West Rail Company's map of the potential routes from Bedford to Cambridge, on which it is consulting. Map: East West Rail Company (45844504)
East West Rail Company's map of the potential routes from Bedford to Cambridge, on which it is consulting. Map: East West Rail Company (45844504)

This raises the prospect of a major new junction near Harston, large embankments, bridges and cuttings, additional tracks and the severing of rural communities.

But having indicated that a station to the north of Cambourne was now favoured, the company did include a technical report that gave further detail on its reasoning for rejecting the northern approach.

This would have taken the line from Cambourne North into an area serving the new town of Northstowe before heading to Cambridge North, a move that is favoured by the Cambridge Approaches and CamBedRailRoad groups.

“In engineering terms, a northern route from Cambourne to Cambridge is feasible, although it would be complex and expensive to consent, construct and operate,” said East West Rail Company. “A northern route would cross the newly upgraded A14 trunk road to the west of Girton, which at this location is an eight-lane dual carriageway. This would therefore require a substantial bridge structure.

How an alternative northern approach for East West Rail would have looked. Map: East West Rail Company
How an alternative northern approach for East West Rail would have looked. Map: East West Rail Company

“The prevailing low-lying land levels mean that this structure would be a prominent feature in the surrounding landscape.

“An additional station could be provided near Oakington, south-east of Northstowe, but this area is low-lying and forms part of a floodplain so the station and its approaches would necessarily be elevated.

“A junction with the existing West Anglia Main Line (WAML) would be located north of Milton and this too sits in a floodplain. This location was also granted outline planning permission for the proposed Cambridge Sports lake.

“The route into Cambridge would be via the WAML, a two-track line which would need to be upgraded to a four-track line to accommodate the additional EWR (East West Rail) services. The WAML corridor between Milton and Cambridge is much more constrained than a southern approach with properties against the railway boundary and multiple highway crossings with adjacent properties.

“This would necessarily require demolition of residential and commercial property and the widening or replacement of several substantial structures, including the A14 bridge at Milton, and a new bridge over the River Cam.”

East West Rail protest signs in Shelford. Picture: Keith Heppell
East West Rail protest signs in Shelford. Picture: Keith Heppell

The rail company adds that a northern approach would mean:

  • Modifying Cambridge North station to accommodate the additional lines;
  • Replacing and widening all road bridges carrying the A1303 Newmarket Road, Coldhams Lane and Mill Road in Cambridge to accommodate the extra tracks;
  • Altering the plan for Cambridge South station;
  • Introducing a reversing manoeuvre at Cambridge station, adding time and complexity, for services heading further east to Norwich and Ipswich, adding time and complexity.

The company argues that “economically and operationally, a northern approach to Cambridge does not provide the same level of benefits as a southern approach”, which would reach the internationally-important life science cluster at Cambridge Biomedical Campus more quickly.

Northstowe, it adds, is already served by the guided busway.

Campaigners argue there has not been a full consultation on the northern route, and that some of the proposals put forward by CamBedRailRoad had not been fully considered.

CBBR, for example, proposed a chord, or track connection, on Coldham’s Common, to provide a connection from the north to the eastern section of the line, preventing freight having to make a physical reversing move.

Cambridge Approaches also suggests there are “twice the number of environmental sites affected by a southern route than a northern one”.

William Harrold, of Cambridge Approaches, in Haslingfield. Picture: Keith Heppell
William Harrold, of Cambridge Approaches, in Haslingfield. Picture: Keith Heppell

William Harrold, from the campaign group, said of the consultation documents: “It’s so one-sided. They have done a a hatchet job on it basically and we don’t agree.”

Politicians also called for further debate on the matter.

For Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, the latest publication was “a classic case of two steps forward, one step back”.

Having welcomed the decision on Cambourne North, he added: “There has also been clear consideration of the impact on communities, people and property. I welcome the exclusion of any option which would lead to demolition of homes in the Shelfords, which has been a cause for concern locally. It is a shame that the same thinking did not extend to the call for a clear consultation on route alignment.

East West Rail Company's proposals for Hauxton Road level crossing, released on March 31, 2021. Map: East West Rail Company (45712382)
East West Rail Company's proposals for Hauxton Road level crossing, released on March 31, 2021. Map: East West Rail Company (45712382)

“While residents finally have the reassurance that a northern route alignment has been assessed, including a backcheck with proper consideration of a station north of Cambourne and the chance to comment on this proposal, it is clear that East West Rail does not consider this a credible option. I am deeply disappointed that there is not a more open consultation presenting a clear choice between routes. Residents must not only be fully informed on such matters, but free to weigh up the pros and cons of any scenario to decide for themselves.

“I also recognise the concerns residents in Harston, Hauxton and Haslingfield may have regarding the potential impact of new railway infrastructure proposed as part of the southern route, particularly the potential new railway junction near Harston. This will need very careful consideration and I will be looking to engage personally with residents and campaigners on this matter while urging them to read and respond to this consultation.”

East West Rail Company's proposals for Shepreth junction to Addenbrooke's. Map: East West Rail Company (45712386)
East West Rail Company's proposals for Shepreth junction to Addenbrooke's. Map: East West Rail Company (45712386)

Ian Sollom, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for South Cambridgeshire, said: “I continue to be disappointed that there has never been an opportunity for the public to be consulted on alternative approaches to Cambridge from Cambourne.”

And Dr Nik Johnson, Labour’s candidate for mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough at the May 6 elections and a district councillor for St Neots East, said he could see “real beneftits” to a northern approach, particularly for Northstowe.

“I would urge the consultation to reconsider this option,” he said.

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