Like many stations it has been struggling to cope with the vast number of passengers using it (footfall has grown 25% in less than a decade) with its almost unique long platform heavily crowded in the peak and capacity for trains limited by the 'diamond' cross-over separating platforms 1 and 4.
The solution has been on the cards since at least 2001, a new island platform, which will see Cambridge have four bi-directional through platforms, rather than the current two, along with the retained four bay platforms (two north to Ely/Ipswich and two south to London/Stansted).
Developers planning a new town adjacent to Waterbeach, on the RAF base, had suggested a 15-minute train service to Cambridge station (and beyond to a new station at Addenbrooke's hospital). They recognised the need for the island platform and commissioned a study into how it might be designed. The platforms that Network Rail is building are, unsurprisingly, similar, but do not include a bay platform for the terminating Ipswich/Norwich services.
Financial approval for Network Rail to construct the new island platform was finally given in 2009, as part of the government's High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for Control Period 4 (2009-2014). A consultation for the rail industry took place between December 2009 and January 2010 with Cambridge City Council giving planning approval for relevant parts of the scheme that affect the station's listed status in mid-2010.
Construction finally began in April 2011 (as shown in the photos below) and should be fully complete by December 2011 in time for the commencement of the winter timetable. Initially the new platforms will only be used at peak time and will allow 12-coach trains to operate between Cambridge and London Liverpool Street on the West Anglia route.
Railfuture had been lobbying for more capacity and space at the station, which the new platforms will help to overcome. Railfuture has also complained about the lack of protection from the rain on platform 1 - the busiest in terms of people waiting to board. Although that issue is not being addressed, at least people waiting on the new platforms will have more protection. However, improvements can still be made to the passenger experience and it is likely that Railfuture will be lobbying for extra facilities in the future, such as toilets and a refreshment kiosk on the new platform.
Photos about the same topic on external web-sites:
- Stopmotion video of bridge lift from the Cambridge News
- Martin Thorne's "Cambridge Station all change" Gallery
- Tim Harris' night-time photos of the footbridge components being lifted into place on 25/09/2011
It is clear that there is sufficient space to construct a bay platform at the northern end of the island to allow Ipswich services to terminate, which would avoid the train having to cross the tracks to use platforms 5/6. However, this is for the future.
These photos were taken on Saturday 24th June 2011 on the day of the Railfuture branch meeting in Ipswich.
Just two weeks later (3rd July 2011), the second photo is a shot from the same position and shows a series of sleepers laid ready for the new track leading to platform 8, the most easterly platform. The overhead mast in the distance now has a purpose.
The old set of points (in the distance close to Mill Road bridge) is still in place, with the right track severed. These points will shortly be removed with the track realigned and a new set of points placed to the right where the white sheeting is currently laid.
The new track is slewed away from the other track around the island platform and is perfectly straight closest to camera, leaving open the possibiliy of extending the platform further northwards without track alterations.
Fast forward three weeks (23rd July 2011), the third photo from the same position shows the track now in place and ballasted. Although it looks complete, the track is not yet in use. The ground-level stop sign anchored to the centre of the track is just visible in the distance (close to Mill Road bridge -and there is a similar one at the southern end). Before that is the new points, with wooden timbers in black, currently without ballast.
This view shows the northern end of the new island platforms, which will cope with 12-coach trains. The platform ends south of the foot/cycling bridge that crosses the railway line, about half way along platforms 5/6, but there is provision to extend it further north if a need arises in the future. There will be a footbridge at the northern end, at the buffer stops of platforms 5/6. In order to make space for the stairs and lifts of the footbridge the platform 5 has had to be shortened with the buffer stops moving just over a carriage-length north. This has reduced the maximum length of trains that can use platform 5.
Railfuture understands that a canopy will be provided on the new platform from the footbridge to the southern end, but passengers will have no protection from the rain north of the footbridge. There will also not be any facilities, such as toilets or coffee kiosks, on the island.
On Saturday 24th September 2011 a crane was on site (shown to the left of the picture) ready to lift the vertical supports for the footbridge onto the new island platform (centre of the picture where the new canopy supports are visible in the background) and the existing platform 5 (right of the picture) and then to lift the new footbridge over the tracks and into place. This view from the Carter bridge shows the northern end of the new island platform looking south.
The lifting work was done on the Sunday. Railfuture campaigns for the 'seven-day railway', and wants train replacement by buses (known as "bustitution") kept to a minimum. All train services at Cambridge were suspended, but Railfuture questions whether diesel trains could have run to Ipswich or Norwich from platform 6 (beyond the right of the picture), using the gate into the car park to avoid passengers using the main platforms close to where work would be taking place.
The right-hand photo from 3rd December shows how the former track has been filled in with footbridge completed and the surface laid.
The Network Rail press office issued a speeded-up video showing the footbridge being erected. It was broadcast by the media on the Monday evening.
The right-hand photo from four days later (29th September) shows the footbridge structure in place, but work remains to be done in making it fit for passengers.
By 26th November the footbridge supports have been covered with bricks to make it look more attractive (see left-hand photo).
The right-hand shot from 3rd Decemebr shows the stairs have been completed and area ready to use, although it is still blocked from passenger use by temporary safety fencing.
Both photographs were taken on 9th September 2011, from a train moving southwards, and are from slightly different angles.
The platform canopies, which are only being erected south of the footbridge (i.e. mainly opposite platform 1) are also of a modular design. These photos show the 'pi'-shaped platform supports. The second photo reveals how an elevate machine is used to raise the workers to canopy level.
Both photographs were taken on 13th September 2011, from platform 4.
With two weeks to go, workmen are putting the finishing touches to the platform as shown by the left-hand photo taken on 26th November. The shelters have been erected on the new platform, which will give protection from the wind.
It's now just over a week to go as the rght-hand photo from Saturday 3rd December 2011 shows. The Cambridge station nameplate is now in place. On the following day the station was closed to trains all day to complete the signalling, which had been delayed when a supplier went bust.
The electified line leading to the carriage washer is on the eastern-side of the railway land so the site access involves crossing this frequently-used track. As it was an existing site entrance the overhead wires did not need raising.
Passengers are presented with a much simpler sign, promoting the sponsor (Network Rail), construction companies (Corus Rail and Morgan Sindall) and the operator of the station, National Express East Anglia.
This is one of several identical signs positioned on the western side of the new island platform facing passengers who are standing on the main platform. This photo from the scissors crossing was taken on 23rd July 2011.
Two days before, on Friday 9th Decemeber, Railfuture was invited to see the platform and travel on a special National Express East Anglia train from Liverpool Street to Ely that called at platform 8 on the way out and platform 7 on the way back, under special dispensation from Network Rail.
These photographs show that work was still on-going right to the end, although the works were little more than snagging. Something not illustrated in these pictures is that the cycle guttering on the staircases was placed too close to the wall and was not fit for purpose. The construction team were aware of this and rectifying it.
The photos of the stairs show just how marvellously wide they are, compared to footbridges at other stations. The glass windows on the footbridge are on hinges allowing them to be opened inwards for cleaning.
This shot from the southern end of the platform, also taken two days before opening, shows the scale of the platform and the canopy.
Viewing the main platform from the island shows the less than perfect state of the old (listed) building. Apparently the island platform has come in £700,000 under budget. Perhaps some of the surplus could be used to spruce up the station.