Cambridgeshire Rail Links Improvement Campaigns

engine08:08 Friday 13th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: We can’t afford not to invest in more rail links for Cambridgeshire. That’s the line from the head of a campaign group that’s pressing the authorities to get moving with plans for a new line between Cambridge and Bedford. That line could run parallel with the A428, and it will stop at places like St Neots and Alconbury, if it ever gets built. Peter Wakefield is from East Anglia Rail Futures. He says with growing populations and a growing economy, we need more infrastructure too. (TAPE)
PETER WAKEFIELD: Something’s got to be done. As our population of new townships is developed etcetera, the road simply will not be able to cope. We’re paying ¬£1.5 billion for fifteen miles of new A14, which I suggest is a lot more expensive per mile than the infamous High Speed 2. If we can afford that kind of money we can afford smaller schemes, like a new railway between Bedford and Cambridge, or Wisbech and March. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well that line Peter mentioned just at the end is the much fought over Bramley Line between Wisbech and March of course. Earlier this year 4,000 people signed a petition in favour of it being reopened. So should we even be thinking of a line from Cambridge to Bedford before we sort out some transport for the Fens, poorly served Fens it has to be said. .. Patrick O’Sullivan is a consultant for the East West Rail Consortium. Patrick, morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Is that line going to happen, do you think?

PATRICK O’SULLIVAN: Are you talking about the Wisbech line or the Bedford to Cambridge line?
PAUL STAINTON: Well let’s start with the Wisbech one first. There’s a real drive behind getting it going, isn’t there?
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN: Well apparently. I have to tell you that I haven’t personally been involved in any sort of campaign for that, so I’m not really qualified to speak on that. My role is actually to do some work to try and make a business case for reopening the Bedford to Cambridge railway.
PAUL STAINTON: Is either likely though really?
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN: Well again I can’t comment on the Wisbech line, but on the Bedford to Cambridge one, intuitively we think there’s actually now a much stronger case for it. And the reason I say that is that three or four years ago, when we were developing the first part of the reopening of the Varsity Line, that is between Oxford and Bedford, many people said it’s a good idea but it will never happen. But in fact we’ve now been successful in getting the funding for that scheme, and work is already underway now on constructing the first part of it between Oxford and Bicester.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it really that important though, to build this rail line from Cambridge to Bedford? Who’s it going to benefit?
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN: Well the benefit actually is in journey times. If you want to drive from Oxford to Cambridge, or to get the bus from Oxford to Cambridge, it takes for ever, because as your previous chap Peter Wakefield was saying, the road is just becoming busier and busier. And railways are cleaner, faster and that’s the benefit, to get from A to B in a much faster time.
PAUL STAINTON: Several routes being planned, is there a preferred option?
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN: Well that’s the problem. because the railway has been dismantled, and there’s no obvious route option, so we’ve never actually been ablde to come up with a preference. So we’re just actually about to start some new work on stepping back and taking a much more strategic look at the whole area of East Anglia, looking at what is the economic activity in the area, what’s driving the economy, and then how can transport links help to sustain and grow the economy. And from that will emerge which route will be probably preferable.
PAUL STAINTON: Who would pay for all of this? Who should we be putting pressure on if we desperately want this line between Cambridge and Bedford? Where do we go?
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN: Well the funding for railways comes from the Department of Transport. That’s how it works. And we are aiming to .. we got the funding for the Oxford to Bedford line in the period of 2014 to 2019, although some advance works are already underway. So what we’re looking for is to get the funding for the Bedford to Cambridge railway identified in the next five year cycle, which would start some time in 2019. It’s a long way away, but traditionally in this country it takes a long time to get infrastructure projects going.
PAUL STAINTON: Let’s speak to councillor Ian Bates as well, Cabinet Member for Growth and Planning at Cambridgeshire County Council. Morning Ian.
IAN BATES: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Is there a real need for this railway?
IAN BATES: The very simple answer to that Paul is yes. As we all know I think, we’ve built railways (that) tend to be North/South, and we need something which connects Ipswich and Norwich with Milton Keynes, and Bedford and Cambridge I think is in the middle. So the simple answer to your question is yes we do need it.
PAUL STAINTON: Would it help congestion do you think on the A14, the A428?
IAN BATES: Yes again. I think it would. I think as has already been said rail is quicker, and we do need to improve our transport links for rail as well as road. And I think we need that plan to come together. And it is quite right Paul, it is a long term project that has been successful already at the Oxford end. Let’s move the success to the Cambridge end.
PAUL STAINTON: Any money in the pot, do you think though?
IAN BATES: Well that comes where the Department of Transport comes in Paul. And Network Rail. We’ve got to obviously make that case to them, because they are essentially the funders. So we will certainly be supporting and working with the rail network and other councils, from Norfolk all the way through to Milton Keynes, to push this particular case to join the link. It’s actually joining up Norfolk and Suffolk with what is Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes.
PAUL STAINTON: Is it fair though, that we give Cambridge something else? They’ve had the Guided Bus haven’t they Cambridge? They get the revamp of the A14. Poor old Wisbech and March. Shouldn’t we prioritise that rail line first?
IAN BATES: Well the answer to that Paul is I am working on that as well, you’ll be glad to know. You’ve heard from some of your people talk about March, and a lot of them from March of course do go south into Cambridge. And I think that’s just demonstrates the economic hub that we’ve got in Cambridge.
PAUL STAINTON:¬†Maybe that’s the only option at the moment.
IAN BATES: Well that may well be the case. But we are certainly looking at the Wisbech to March. It’s not off our agenda. It is on our agenda. And perhaps I can give a little bit of a plug, if you don’t mind, to we are currently consulting on transport for Cambridgeshire. So I think actually if people want to input, say what they want to say about road or rail or cycling, now is your opportunity. Because this is a long term strategy that the County Council is looking at.
PAUL STAINTON: Are any of these routes ever going to happen, do you think?
IAN BATES: I think the simple answer to that would be yes as well. OK? I’m not sure I shall be around for all of them. OK?
PAUL STAINTON: Will I be around? That’s the other question.
IAN BATES: Well hopefully, as you’re a bit younger than me, most probably yes as well.
PAUL STAINTON: How old are you Dottie? Dottie is in her twenties I believe. Will she be around do you think by the time they’re built?
IAN BATES: I hope that Dottie will still be there.
PAUL STAINTON: So do we. So do we. Thank you for coming on this morning Ian. Ian Bates, Cabinet Member for Growth and Planning at Cambridgeshire County Council. Before that you heard from Patrick O’Sullivan from the East West Rail Consortium.