Wisbech rail line one step closer

freight_train17:41 Wednesday 1st April 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

SAM EDWARDS: It’s been announced that £10.5 million of funding has been unlocked for the Wisbech rail scheme. It was news announced today by the Conservative candidate for North East Cambridgeshire Stephen Barclay, who of course has been the MP for the constituency for the past five years. Wisbech would be reconnected to the national network by restoring the line between the Fenland town and March, in turn linking it with Cambridge, Peterborough and Ely, as well as many other places across the United Kingdom. Chris Burton is the vice-chairman of Railfuture East Anglia.

CHRIS BURTON: Well my initial reaction has to be one of great pleasure, because at long last it’s happened. The whole business of getting anything reopened in transport terms, be it road or rail, is a long protracted series of hurdles, and this is a major hurdle. It means that I would think that this money could be spent straight away on accurately costing this project. At the moment we have the remnants of a single track railway that runs from March to Wisbech. So the track is still there, but that needs to be fettled up. It has several level crossings, and we need to know what the exact cost is, because usually Network Rail give a cost estimate that’s really based on no research at all. So it’s not really very accurate. It’s when they settle down and see, oh we’re going to have to do this, what are we going to have to do. And that’s what this £10 million I suspect will partly fund.
SAM EDWARDS: Now it’s been a topsy turvy journey. There have been plenty of hurdles. People in Wisbech might be hearing this and think, yeah yeah yeah, it still seems a long way off. Does it still seem a long way off for you, or this a significant development?
CHRIS BURTON: I think it is a way off. We’re talking about a couple of years I would think. But in the big scheme of things, what’s a couple of years? If it’s done properly, which it must be, then two years is what we might have to wait. We shall have to wait and see, because it doesn’t look as though whatever government cuts come along, that an infrastructure cut would affect this project. We hope not anyway.
SAM EDWARDS: So what could Chris this mean then for the people of Wisbech?
CHRIS BURTON: Well it could mean that when it’s actually connected up, and provided it’s electrified, that’s the most important thing but we may have to start off with a diesel service that will probably link Manea and Ely and Cambridge North currently known as Cambridge Science Park, but I think it may well become known as Cambridge North ..
SAM EDWARDS: This of course the new one
CHRIS BURTON: That’s right. That’s a critical one, because that’s a major centre of employment with direct access to employment there. And then maybe, in the end, when we get a station at Addenbrookes, which is looking quite a way in the future at the moment, it would link up there. So that would be three major centres of employment, Addenbrookes, Cambridge South and then Cambridge North, quite apart from employment on a lower scale in places like Ely and March.
SAM EDWARDS: Do you think Chris that people in Wisbech perhaps sometimes feel cut off that they can’t take the rail network, that they have to rely on the cars and other forms of public transport?
CHRIS BURTON: They probably do, and I think particularly the people who do are the people who are trying to run businesses there, because the beauty of this line is it could also be used for freight. And in fact the very last use of this line was actually freight. It used to be a through freight train that ran all the way from Wisbech to March right up to Deanside in Glasgow. And that was a daily occurrence, five days a week. Things like that could return, because we always have to remember that Wisbech is smack bang in the most prosperous most fertile part of Britain as far as vegetable growing is concerned, vegetable and fruit. And it’s an enormous industry. I’m sure you know that.
SAM EDWARDS: So could this potentially have ramifications then, positive ramifications Chris elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, in terms of getting more freight back on the rail?
CHRIS BURTON: Yes I do think so.Yes. It’s only bulk freight that works on rail, because the costs of rail are expensive. So it’s stuff that’s going medium to long distance, and should be at least four to five hundred tons each time round. Probably more than that. But yes, it would be very good. It would reduce a great many truck journeys. And given that there’s an enormous shortage of truck drivers, so we therefore have a shortage of drivers. It’s very difficult to get hold of them.
SAM EDWARDS: Chris Burton there, the vice-chairman of Railfuture East Anglia, talking to me about the news that £10.5 million of funding has today been unlocked to potentially reopen the Wisbech rail line, reconnecting it to the national network, and joining it to March.