Five route alignment options for Bedford to Cambridge East West rail

The five route alignment options for the Bedford to Cambridge section of East West Rail have been published as consultation opens for residents.

More details about East West Rail, which connects Cambridge and Oxford, were shared yesterday (Wednesday, March 31), including five different options for how the route would be aligned from Bedford to Cambridge.

In January 2020, the government announced the route between the two cities and said it would go through Cambourne and near St Neots as part of the project, where new stations will be built.

The options include either having a station north or south of Cambourne and where specifically the station near St Neots, in Tempsford, should be located.

The East West Rail Company said its preferred options were the ‘dark blue’ and ‘purple’ alignments, pictured on the map.

This is firstly because they both go along the A428, where an improvement scheme is underway. The company said that this means the alignments benefit from a shared ‘travel corridor’, which is already regularly used.

The alignments would also mean a new Cambourne station in the north, rather than one in the south, which is closer to an area that has potential for more homes.

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The two routes are also said to be better value for money.

The line is also proposed to stop at the planned Cambridge South station.

A new railway line from Harlton to Hauxton in South Cambridgeshire is also being proposed, which is how the route would enter Cambridge from the south.

The consultation document says a new railway junction must be built in the area to join the proposed new railway to the existing line that goes from Cambridge to London King’s Cross, through Shepreth and Royston.

It adds that to enable the existing railway between the new Hauxton Junction and Cambridge to accommodate the additional East West Rail services, a number of changes must be made to anticipate the increase in passengers.

This includes additional platforms in Cambridge Station, the opportunity to stop at the proposed Cambridge South Station and an extra two tracks in some areas to create four tracks between Shepreth Branch Junction and Cambridge Station.

Either improvements or the closure of a level crossing in Hauxton Road, between Little Shelford and Hauxton, should also be made.

East West Rail is being delivered in stages, with trains already running on the Oxford to Bicester section. The next stage will cover Oxford to Milton Keynes, which will involve reinstating an out-of-use railway line. The areas covering Cambridgeshire will be developed last.

The travel time between the two university cities will be roughly 95 minutes. This is compared to roughly four hours by coach, two-and-a-half to three hours by train or more than two hours by car.

The five route alignment options for East-West Rail

Red

The red alignment heads north east from Bedford to a new station near St Neots. This alignment option stops closest to St Neots. It would then go north east towards Cambourne, stopping south of the town, before going into Cambridge.

This alignment has a shorter journey time than the dark blue and purple alignments, since the ones that go north of Cambourne take longer. However, this one is longer than the yellow and light blue alignments, because it follows the A428 improvement scheme.

This alignment is also less likely to stimulate housing growth, compared to the dark blue and purple. This is because there are more heritage assets, woodlands, and habitats to the south of Cambourne, which would make it harder to build new homes. The A1198, which runs south vertically, would also split up any new developments in the area.

The red alignment is more expensive than the dark blue and light blue, but cheaper than the yellow and purple alignments. This is because the red alignment, like the dark blue alignment, has a shorter total length of structures and would need less material

The red alignment is expected to have better performance than the light blue, yellow and purple alignments because it avoids an area of weaker geology that would require more maintenance. It also crosses a shorter length of flood plain

Light blue

The light blue route starts out similar to the red route, but it stops further south from St Neots, and then stops south of Cambourne.

The journey time is shorter for light blue than it is for dark blue, red, and purple alignments. It is similar to the journey time for the yellow one.

For the same reasons as the red alignment, the light blue one is less likely to stimulate housing growth.

This alignment is slightly more expensive than the dark blue one, but cheaper than the rest.

It also crosses a shorter length of flood plain than the yellow and purple alignments.

The report states that the blue alignment would be a ‘major improvement’ on the yellow one, which is very similar, in terms of environmental impact.

Purple

The purple alignment stops north of Cambourne, before going south east towards Great Eversden.

The journey time is longer than the red, yellow, and light blue alignments. It is more likely to stimulate housing growth, due to the potential land availability north of Cambourne. There are also fewer heritage assets, woodlands, and habitats in that area.

Yellow and purple, which are further south from St Neots compared to other options, are more expensive because the route will be longer. However, purple will be less expensive than yellow.

The purple alignment covers more flood plain compared to the dark blue, red, and light blue options, meaning it would require additional maintenance.

Yellow

The yellow route starts out similar to the purple one, but goes further south after St Neots and goes south of Cambourne. The journey time is shorter than all of the other options except red.

It has the same issue with not stimulating housing growth as all the options that go south of Cambourne.

This alignment is the most expensive, since it would require longer bridges and viaducts than other options. It is also expected to be the least well performing option in terms of safety and maintenance.

Dark blue

This alignment starts out similar to the red option, stopping closest to St Neots, and then continues north, going north of Cambourne.

It has a longer journey time compared to the red, light blue and yellow alignments, and it is more likely to stimulate housing growth, for the same reasons as the purple one.

The blue alignment would be the cheapest compared to the others because it has the shortest length of structures such as bridges and viaducts.

The alignment is also safer than light blue, yellow, and purple options because it avoids areas of weaker geology that would require more maintenance and crosses a shorter length of flood plain.

What happens if your home or business is affected by the options

The consultation document states that the East West Rail Company is aware that some proposals “could ultimately affect people’s homes, businesses and farms”.

It says it has developed proposals with the aim of minimising the negative impact and mitigate any impacts it cannot avoid.

“While we don’t yet know for certain which land or property will be needed, we know that publishing our plans could potentially affect people needing to sell their land or property. This is a matter we take seriously,” it said.

“Although it is not a legal requirement at this stage of the project’s development, we are consulting on a discretionary purchase scheme, the Need to Sell Scheme that, if introduced, would aim to support owner-occupiers in this position.

“The proposal is that the scheme be introduced when the preferred route alignment for the railway is announced later this year, but it is subject to further consideration.”

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‘Two steps forward, one step back’

Dr Andy Williams, AstraZeneca’s vice-president of Cambridge programme and strategy, came out in support of the plans, saying it would open up opportunities for businesses in south Cambridge.

He added: “This new sustainable transport link is great news for us and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – making it easier to collaborate with researchers from other life science hubs in the UK, as well as making it easier for more people to access the thousands of jobs being created here, both at AstraZeneca and in other organisations too.”

Anthony Brown, South Cambridgeshire MP, said: “What we have before us today is a classic case of two steps forward, one step back.

“In many ways I can already see the impact of our community’s campaigns. In particular, the news that a station to the north of Cambourne is now not only being considered but has become part of East-West Rail’s emerging preference shows what can be accomplished with proper scrutiny.

“This is something I have been deeply involved with, including writing letters and taking meetings with ministers, and it is good to see that East-West Rail can and will listen. There has also been clear consideration of the impact on communities, people and property.

“I welcome the exclusion of any option which would lead to demolition of homes in the Shelfords. It is a shame that the same thinking did not extend to the call for a clear consultation on route alignment.

South Cambridgeshire MP Anthony Browne.
(Image: Copyright Unknown)

“I will be taking meetings with East-West Rail, campaign groups and parish councils over the next 10 weeks. I know from my own surveys that our community will engage with this debate, and I hope everyone in South Cambs will offer their views, as I will certainly be offering mine.”

This is the second public consultation on the section of the line between Bedford and Cambridge since 2019, when more than 10,000 responses were collected.

The comments and ideas received will feed into the design, construction and operation of the rail scheme, which could provide people from communities across the area with new connections to family, friends, jobs, education and leisure activities

East West Railway Company has mailed a summary of the consultation to 270,000 addresses along the route and will be holding a series of online events for communities and stakeholders.

There will be community events, live-chat sessions with the company’s team and an interactive virtual consultation room, launching on April 12.

For the full details, go to eastwestrail.co.uk.

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