East West Rail and the Eversdens
Published on December 12th, 2020 | by SW0
We are in serious danger of having a major new railway line built on our doorstep. The East West Rail project will be the most important planning issue to affect our local community in the Eversdens over the next decade. Depending on its exact siting, the railway’s construction, and its operation once opened, could have a significant adverse impact on our local area. It is essential that we are all aware of what lies on the horizon, and that we take every opportunity available to us, individually and collectively, to have a voice in the decisions that lie ahead.
The nature of the East West Rail project
The East West Rail project has separate components. The ‘Western Section’, connecting Oxford to Bedford, is already under construction. Our immediate local concern is with the siting of the ‘Central Section’, which will run between Bedford and Cambridge. This section has been designated by the Government as a ‘Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project’. The implication is that different planning rules will apply. Construction of this part of the railway is expected to begin in 2025.
It is important to understand that the Central Section, which immediately affects us, is only one part of a larger jigsaw. The ultimate plan is to connect the railway line from Cambridge to the East of England ports. As such, the line planned will not be merely a passenger line, connecting Oxford, Bedford and Cambridge, and intermediate towns, and operating within normal passenger travel hours. Once complete and operational, it will be a major route for heavy freight traffic through our local area, potentially at any hour. We should not underestimate the significance of this and the potential adverse impact.
The development of East West Railway Co’s plans for the Central Section
The East West Railway Company is the company established to develop the Central (Bedford-Cambridge) Section of the planned railway. The Department of Transport is its main shareholder.
The East West Railway Co’s plans for the Central Section have five development stages.
- Choosing the ‘Preferred Route Option’ (ie, the broad route corridor)
- Developing ‘Route Alignment Options’ (ie, specific route options, within that corridor)
- Choosing a ‘Preferred Route Alignment’ (ie, the final route)
- Securing development consent
- Starting construction
Stage 1 was completed in early 2020. Stage 2 is in progress. Stage 3 looms on the horizon in 2021.
The Company’s 2019 consultation on its ‘Preferred Route Option’
The East West Railway Co conducted a non-statutory public consultation exercise early in 2019, with a view to identifying its ‘Preferred Route Option’ for the Central Section of the railway: ie, the section between Bedford and Cambridge. Five options were presented in that consultation. These identified five possible ‘corridors’ within which the final route might be located. Information about that 2019 consultation area is archived on the East West Railway Company’s website. The website includes the five route option maps, as well as the original consultation document and underlying technical report.
The Company’s selection of Route Option E as its ‘Preferred Route Option’
In January 2020, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the preferred route option for the Central Section was what had been known as ‘Route Option E’ in the 2019 consultation.
This decision could not have been worse for our local community: Route Option E is the route option that has the greatest potential for adverse impact on our local area.
As the map shows, Route Option E assumes that a railway station will be sited in the Cambourne/Caxton area, and that the line would run from there through a narrow corridor that runs south-east, crossing the A603, and eventually joining existing rail lines south of Cambridge. In short, if the line follows Route Option E, it will inevitably run between the Eversdens (to its west/south-west) and Comberton/Barton (to its east/north-east).
For maps of the Preferred Route Option, see:
- Bedford to Cambridge: the Preferred Route Option Downloadable Map
- Bedford to Cambridge: the Preferred Route Option Interactive Map
For further information about the Preferred Route Option, and East West Railway Co’s thinking, see:
- Bedford to Cambridge: The Preferred Route Option webpage
- The Preferred Route Option: Summary document
- East West Rail: Your Questions Answered document
Local individuals and groups are seeking, via communications with the Company and Freedom of Information requests, to better understand the calculations that underlie East West Railway Co’s choice of Route Option E. Particular concern has been raised within the Cambourne/Caxton area about the location of the railway station: there is a strong body of local opinion that the station would be better located north of Cambourne, rather than near Caxton, in order to better serve the growing local population and reduce unnecessary local traffic to the station. It is conceivable that re-location of that station to the north might have an impact on route choice and could make more attractive a different route that runs west-east along the A428, before entering Cambridge to its north, or heading south along/near to the M11 to enter Cambridge to its south. We understand that East West Railway Co are exploring the possibility of such a route and that it has the support of our local MP. We should all lobby strongly for it as the best solution for the whole area.
The current stage: developing ‘Route Alignment Options’
Having identified its Preferred Route Option, East West Railway Co is now conducting work to identify a series of specific route options within the Preferred Route Option – what the Company calls the ‘Route Alignment Options’. This includes a large number of environmental and other surveys within the local area. East West Railway Co also began a process of community engagement in early 2020 which was quickly called to a halt in March 2020, when the national Covid-19 lockdown began. East West Railway Co recently re-started this process of community engagement, initially via a series of online workshops with local parish council representatives, across the route area.
East West Railway Co expects to reach a decision in the coming weeks about the Route Alignment Options, on which it will conduct a non-statutory public consultation exercise. It will then select one of those options as its ‘Preferred Route Alignment’. There will then be a statutory public consultation exercise on that preferred alignment. Following that consultation, East West Railway Co will finalise its route proposal and seek the necessary planning consents. Construction is planned to start in 2025.
Although we will have an opportunity to express an opinion during the impending non-statutory public consultation on route alignments and the subsequent statutory public consultation on the preferred route alignment, that is very likely to be too late. It is vital that we take advantage of the opportunity offered to us at this earlier stage to influence East West Railway Co’s thinking about possible routes within the Option E corridor. Even more importantly, we need urgently to lobby our local and regional representatives and East West Railway Co to force them to give proper thought to options outside the current Option E corridor, including – above all – the proposals of CamBedRailRoad for a northern approach to Cambridge.
Time is short and we are a small community by comparison with other affected areas.
The work of the East West Rail Cambridge Approaches Action Group
Little and Great Eversden Parish Council was contacted in August 2020 by a local community group, the East West Rail Cambridge Approaches Action Group (‘the Cambridge Approaches Group’). The Group has a dedicated website, which provides information about its aims and objectives, its work, and links to much useful information: http://cambridgeapproaches.org.
The objectives of the Cambridge Approaches Group
The Cambridge Approaches Group was formed in July 2020 by representatives of local communities located in the Route Option E area – and in particular, the area between Toft and the Shelfords. The objectives of the Cambridge Approaches Group have developed since its original formation.
Objective 1 – Working towards the best outcome for local communities affected by a Route Option E route
The CAG was initially formed to find a route that minimised the impact on people and the environment through the Route Option E area. This was intended to take place through detailed analysis of the Route Option E area, using available expertise, in regular conversation with representatives of local parishes. The hope was to develop local thinking about possible routes through our area, sensitive to the full range of local concerns, which could be discussed with local communities and with East West Railway Co. The Group hoped, by this means, to achieve a more open dialogue between communities and with East West Railway Co, and a better outcome for the communities concerned.
Objective 2 – Campaigning for a review of the decision of East West Railway Company to select Route Option E
However, in the course of performing its work, the CAG has reached the conclusion that East West Railway Company’s decision to choose Route Option E is fundamentally flawed. The CAG is now beginning a process of campaigning for a review of that decision. It is demanding a full and fair evaluation of all possible approaches into Cambridge – both to a north Cambridge or a south Cambridge station. You can find important discussion of the CAG’s developing challenge to the business case that led to the choice of Route Option E on the CAG’s website.
Before East West Rail Co’s last – and woefully inadequate – consultation exercise, another local campaign group, CamBedRailRoad launched a petition demanding that the proposal for a northern Cambridge approach be fairly evaluated alongside alternative routes proposed by East West Rail Co. As yet, this demand remains unsatisfied. The CAG is lending its strong support to this petition. It also deserves our strong support. All residents of the Eversdens are urged to sign the petition, without delay.
The Cambridge Approaches Group’s analysis and discussion of possible route alternatives
The Cambridge Approaches Group’s thinking has continued to develop through its regular meetings, as further information and views are received. In its earlier meetings, six main route alternatives were explored and assessed for their impact on each of the local areas. Of these, alternatives 1-5 fall within the current Route Option E area.
Alternatives 1-5 discussed by the CAG
The five Route Option E area alternative corridors discussed by the Group in September 2020 are depicted on the following map:
For our local community in the Eversdens, the most important point to notice is that four of the five alternative corridors under discussion would see the rail route running within 500 metres-1 km of Little and Great Eversden, and much closer to the far end of the High Street, Little Eversden. The noise and visual impact, in particular, could be considerable. In addition, a route along those lines would inevitably bisect the roads, bridleways and footpaths that serve our local community – the routes our children use to get to school, and the routes that many of us use to get to work in/around Cambridge.
The alternative corridors under discussion by the Cambridge Approaches Group to date have been shaped by a large number of known parameters/constraints.
The primary assumption that currently underlies the siting of the alternative corridors towards the southern edge of the Route Option E boundary, and so closest to Little and Great Eversden, is the major constraint on route choice which is created by the location of the University’s telescope facility (the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory (‘MRAO’)), south/south-east of the A603.
The Cambridge Approaches Group understands that the East West Railway Company has had some preliminary conversations with the MRAO’s management/the University of Cambridge about the implications of the telescope facility for possible rail routes. The outcome of those conversations is not known, but we do know that concerns have been raised about the railway’s potential interference with the telescope facility – primarily in terms of vibration and line of sight issues – which might result in a large ‘exclusion zone’ around the facility, and force the line towards its outer perimeter. At present, this has led the Cambridge Approaches Group to assume that the most likely crossing point over the A603 would be close to the western side of the junction between the A603 and Royston Road (which runs north to Comberton).
Alternatives 6/6A discussed by the CAG
The Cambridge Approaches Group has more recently explored the possibility of an alternative corridor that falls outside the current Route Option E area, identified as alternatives 6/6A. This option assumes that the Cambourne station will be located north of Cambourne, and that the route would run west to east from there along the northern side of the A428, before heading south along/near the M11 corridor, to enter the southern side of Cambridge. Alternatives 6/6A would result in the rail line tracking existing transport corridors to Cambridge.
For the Eversdens and for many other local communities, alternatives 6/6A would be the least worst option of the alternative routes analysed by the Cambridge Approaches Group. Nevertheless, they remain the least worst of a set of very bad options. There is a better alternative: the northern Cambridge approach proposed by CamBedRailRoad, explained immediately below.
The proposals of CamBedRailRoad (CBRR) for a northern Cambridge approach
All residents of the Eversdens need to be aware of alternative route proposals that have been developed and advocated for several years by the CamBedRailRoad group: http://www.cambedrailroad.org. CamBedRailRoad invested a considerable amount of time, effort and expertise in developing an alternative route proposal which would see East West Railway Co’s rail line approach Cambridge from the north, rather than the south. All Eversdens residents are urged to acquaint themselves with the CBRR proposal and the reasons for its adoption: see e.g. http://www.cambedrailroad.org/general.php?id=49 and see their document, Arguments for a Northern Approach into Cambridge, as well as other resources on their website. CBRR present a very powerful case for the adoption of northern Cambridge approach. However, this ‘northern approach’ is not currently being considered by East West Railway Co and it has not been adequately considered at earlier stages in East West Railway Co’s work. Despite CBRR’s earlier work and advocacy, the 2019 non-statutory consultation exercise by East West Railway Co offered five route options, all of which assumed that the line would enter Cambridge from the south. This means that the public has never been consulted on the relative merits of northern and southern approaches, and CBRR’s arguments for a northern approach have never been adequately countered by East West Railway Co. This is unacceptable.
Against that background, it is vital that we and other local communities lobby immediately, urgently and widely for the postponement of EWR’s impending non-statutory consultation on route alignments within the route option E area, in order to allow for a proper consideration of CBRR’s proposal for a northern approach, and for a public consultation on the relative merits of northern and southern approaches. The impending non-statutory consultation on what is currently route option E should not take place, unless and until it has been demonstrated by EWR that there are compelling reasons against CBRR’s proposals and in favour of EWR’s current plans. Those reasons have not yet been provided.
What can you do?
To obtain the best solution for our local community, there are things that we can each do.
We need you all to write to your MP, District and County Councillors and Mayor
East West Railway Co is a public body so every email and letter to a politician will count. An original letter has more impact than a template letter. If you send an e-mail send it to Anthony Browne MP and copy the others listed in the ‘cc’ line. Please consider writing to:
- your local MP, Anthony Browne (firstname.lastname@example.org);
- your District Councillor, Aiden van de Weyer (email@example.com);
- your County Councillor, Lina Nieto (Lina.Nieto@cambridgeshire.gov.uk);
- your Mayor James Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org).
You should also consider writing to East West Railway Co to express your concerns, by emailing email@example.com, or sending a letter to FREEPOST East West Rail.
We need you all to sign CamBedRailRoad’s petition for a fair evaluation of a northern approach into Cambridge
CamBedRailRoad launched a petition demanding that the proposal for a northern Cambridge approach be fairly evaluated alongside alternative routes proposed by East West Railway Co. As yet, this demand remains unsatisfied. This demand deserves our strong support. All residents of the Eversdens should sign this petition, which is linked here, without delay.
We need you all to stay informed
The village website will be updated as we receive further information about the EWR project. We will use the village email mailing list to let you know when important new information is added to the website.
Please also consider signing up the Cambridge Approaches Group’s news (www.cambridgeapproaches.org/). Cambridge Approaches (CAG) aims to hold EWR to account on behalf of our local communities and identify better routes. We have a PC representative that attends their meetings.
You could also subscribe to East West Railway Co’s newsletter (www.eastwestrail.co.uk/get-in-touch/newsletter).