The long awaited announcement of the preferred route option for the East West Rail Central section was made on 30th January ending a year of speculation and suspense following the consultation on five possible options that began on 28th January last year.

Although of the options presented, Railfuture supported option A being the most direct and cheapest at the time and more likely to succeed, much can happen in a year. Cost assumptions change with further modelling and Option E was only £100m more than option A and cheaper than the remaining options besides being the most popular. But cost is only half the picture, a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) looks at the value of benefits too and option E won out due to its better connectivity performance, the regeneration opportunities it brings to the centre of Bedford and its ability to serve existing settlements. Option A would have incurred considerable environmental challenges too, particularly around Wimpole Hall and would have required considerable mitigation on top of basic construction costs.

Some features of this route are worthy of note.

At Bedford there will be 2 additional tracks and platforms on the east side dedicated to East West Rail and associated relocation of the station entrance. Although there will be physical connection with existing lines, the intention is for east-west to be operationally independent from any disruption on the Midland Main Line. The Thameslink depot sidings may be relocated too but there are no details at this stage.

There will be a new station on the East Coast Main Line between St.Neots and Sandy with a broad range of options for its precise location. Passenger interchange will be by high and low level platforms.

At Cambourne there will be a new station provided to serve existing and projected housing development. It is not intended to obviate the need for any future ‘Metro’ proposal but to complement it as the latter will have in intensive stopping pattern between Cambourne and Cambridge Central but metro passengers can access East West Rail at either end of its route.
The line will then swing south eastwards to enter Cambridge from the south at a point below the projected Cambridge South station. There are two reasons for this. The first is the importance of the bio-medical campus as a trip generator and the second is operational as services entering from the south can continue without reversal, towards Ipswich or Norwich. No details are yet available for its design as this is a separate project with which the East West Railway Company are engaged.

At Cambridge Central there will be a need for further remodelling to create additional capacity. There are no details of this but it is likely to involve extending the island platform.

Other developments

With greater certainty surrounding the East West project, the more expectations it attracts. Where once there was serious concern that it would be limited in scope to an Oxford to Cambridge commuter railway, there is now widespread support for this to become the East-West Main Line (EWML?). It is almost certain that when this line opens (“by the end of the decade”!) it will be a mixed traffic line with capacity and capability for longer distance services as well as freight. The climate emergency declaration has also affected assumptions. East West Railway Company are determined to create a ‘net zero carbon’ railway and electrification is now back in favour.

A route is not an alignment

We must not forget that there is still much detailed design work ahead before this project obtains a Development Consent Order. There will doubtless be plenty of opportunity for comment on details as they emerge for consultation. But for now, we welcome this as a major step towards realising our vision.

East West Railway Company announcement

Railfuture Ox-Cam campaign