Transport East need to talk to their Cambridgeshire counterparts on their long term transport strategy

…and Cambridgeshire institutions & campaign groups need to have a look to improve upon proposals that have too many gaps at this stage.


“If I was Haverhill, I’d complain!”

Or words to that effect.

Above – detail of Transport East’s strategic corridors.

Now let’s compare it to the recommendations of the 1969 Royal Commission on Local Government’

Above – Royston, Saffron Walden, Haverhill, and Newmarket all within the orbit of Cambridge pre-tech-boom.

Now let’s look at the pre-Beeching rail network from the New Adlestrop Railway Atlas. You’ll spend all night looking at it. It’s addictive!

It’s worth clicking on the link to the latest version via here so you can read the station labels more clearly. As you can see, Cambridge lost four branch lines:

  • Huntingdon/St Ives
  • The Varsity Line to Sandy, Bedford, & Oxford
  • The Haverhill/Sudbury line
  • The Barnwell/Bottisham/Mildenhall line

Having ***all of these*** back as either rail or light rail alone would do wonders for reducing motor traffic. But it doesn’t work like that. Radio telescopes are on the Varsity line – hence East-West Rail, and other lines have been built over at awkward-to-reopen places.

Playing with rail ideas on G-Maps

I got the sense at the last Cambridge East Area Committee meeting that transport officers are slowly but surely coming round to the idea that at some stage in the future they will have to bring in Light Rail – even if it’s not in the next five-ten years.

I had just about assumed the only way to proceed for supporters of light rail was through MPs and ministers. It looks like more people who are relatively new to the Cambridge Connect Light Rail proposals and who have not been worn down by years of campaigning are continuing to make the case. Which is splendid!

Which is why Transport East should not consider themselves bound by the artificial boundaries between Cambridgeshire and the eastern counties. For example, the distance between Haverhill & Saffron Walden is just over ten miles. Yet they are in two separate counties, both of which are separate to Cambridge in Cambridgeshire.

Above – from G-Maps.

Because both towns are outside of Cambridgeshire, they are seen as outside of the remit of the GCP & Combined Authority. Yet if you wanted to make a huge impact on road traffic into Cambridge and its tech parks while providing a massive boost to tourist attractions outside of the city (along with boosting the market towns themselves), a rail loop from Cambridge – Linton – Haverhill – Saffron Walden – Duxford – Sawston – Cambridge starts to make sense. For a start they don’t need to be A-to-B style commuter lines – stops can be created for new country parks. Mindful that the direction of travel with regulations may well involve barring diesel-powered freight vehicles entering built up areas, there may also be a case for light-rail-based freight exchanged that can bring goods into urban areas that can then be distributed via local e-van and cycle/e-cycle-based couriers.

Transport East linking to Cambridge as a means of spreading economic opportunities and reducing poverty

For years I’ve called for Cambridge to have a direct rail link to Great Yarmouth – as railway timetables of the past seem to indicate used to be the case.

Above – from the Cambridge Independent Press 18 Sept 1875 in the British Newspaper Archive.

If you look at the old railway maps, you can see that there used to be a chord at Norwich that enabled that journey.

Above from the New Adlestrop Railway Atlas of old.

The chord also enabled trains to Lowestoft. Mindful that Great Yarmouth has struggled with poverty & deprivation for decades, to me it seems a a straight forward case to re-open and electrify that link for more regular, faster, cleaner, quieter & more environmentally friendly trains to Norwich & Great Yarmouth from overheating Cambridge. Furthermore, it ensures sustainable transport underpins the proposals for a Cambridge-Norwich Tech Corridor. Interestingly, the Tech Corridor proponents have made the case for electrifying commuting here. Their Tech Corridor marketing report is also one for the Combined Authority officers to look at.

A new tunnelled rail loop linking the University of East Anglia & Norwich Airport to Cambridge & Great Yarmouth by rail

Mentioned in an earlier blogpost, I created this several years ago on my previous blog. My concept was to re-open the Cambridge-Mildenhall line, extend it up to Swaffham to run parallel to the main road, go underground at and to serve the University of East Anglia, continue to Norwich Airport (where it either remains as is if air travel/freight can be made to be truly zero carbon, or as a site for new development), before emerging above-ground onto Great Yarmouth.

Norwich to Cromer branch line

There is also the option of having one of the services serving the town of North Walsham (where my childhood next door neighbours relocated to in the 1980s) and ultimately terminating at Cromer, mindful of the number of caravan parks.

All of these are only ideas to be explored rather than expertly-planned and costed proposals. The rural connectivity issues are raised in the Transport East plan. Creating new and/or improving rail services that can get people to where they need to be faster, with fewer carbon emissions, and without the need to worry about where to park with those lines may be a place to start. Not least because for the coastal resorts it opens them up to day trips/weekend stays for the affluent and rapidly-growing population of Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire – in particular the young families.

Not forgetting Hunstanton and Wells-next-the-sea

It’s a South Cambridge thing. I went to Wells once in the mid-1990s at the end of year 10 but thought little of it. But many families from our part of town still head to Wells regularly – I know one of them has a property there that many stay in, so that might be the reason.

I thought better of Hunstanton in the two years before – the only east coast resort that faces west!

And the Hunstanton Rail Campaign want their station and track back. With new services.

Again, this should be a no-brainer for Transport East given the multiple deprivation levels and the huge economic and tourist potential of north-west Norfolk and north east Cambridgeshire – eg Wisbech. From King’s Lynn it is around 15 miles to either Wisbech or Hunstanton. Again, there are options for light rail to be based out of a hub at King’s Lynn to serve both Wisbech and the seaside resorts. Or alternatively two separate branch line rail services from Cambridge, & Peterborough could serve Wisbech, then King’s Lynn, and then looping around Hunstanton, Wells, and back to King’s Lynn.

The point is… Transport East need to be in regular communication with their counterparts in Cambridgeshire, and publicise / invite the public to participate.

Because otherwise they risk letting administrative and institutional boundaries get in the way of what should be relatively straight forward solutions to shared problems.

Food for thought?

(Now to await the railway experts & engineers tear the proposals to pieces. Mindful that the scenario is a looming ban on fossil-fuel-powered motor vehicles – so we either provide an alternative or we go back to a much more localised way of living (there are not enough rare metals in the world for a 1-for-1 replacement for petrol/diesel vehicles), or we all die in a climate catastrophe if we carry on as normal).

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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