Could new PM Rishi Sunak help his MPs solve East Cambridgeshire’s transport issues?

Trying to find a local angle to the change of head of government, mindful that the neighbouring Tory MPs for South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire supported his bid following Liz Truss’s resignation

I wrote about the idea of an East Cambridgeshire light rail back in August 2021 (you can read it here) in the context of a radical overhaul of public transport in Cambridgeshire in the face of the climate emergency and the need to reduce significantly the amount of motor traffic on our roads.

One of the options given the progress of re-opening the Wisbech-March rail link is extending that line to Cambridge either via the existing Fenland link between March and Cambridge via Ely, or by building a link between March and Ely via the town of Chatteris. (Play with the map here, and screengrabbed below)

Above – a new concept linking East Cambridgeshire to a light rail or suburban rail line

Making use of existing suburban rail lines means that a basic route between Cambridge and Ely via East Cambridgeshire villages could be built.

One of the reasons we cannot have rail services from Ely to Cambridge via Newmarket town in Suffolk at present is because of the deconstruction of the old chord that used to link them. We can still see the outline in the countryside today.

Above – from G-Maps here – you can see the faded left side of the curved triangle of railway lines – the eastward-curving lines are still in place, but the other one is not.

“Is anyone campaigning for its reconstruction?”

Yes – Rail Future East. In fact, they made a presentation back in 2019 which you can view the slides of here, on what improvements could be made.

East Cambridgeshire residents: if you want those infrastructure improvements, here are some things that you can do.

  1. Email your Members of Parliament (we have a general election within the next two years or so, so they are more likely to be in ‘listening mode’) and county councillors (see – you just need your postcode), invite them to read the Rail Future slides, and ask them what they are doing about progressing the proposals
  2. Go along to the next Rail Future meeting in Cambridge on 03 Dec 2022 (2pm, The Signal Box Community Centre, Glenalmond Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8DB) and also consider joining their campaign as a member
  3. Share the slides with any community or business forum you are a member of and invite their representatives (eg Messrs Wakefield and Smart) to speak to your group, whether on Zoom or face-to-face.

What happens after that…well that’s up to you.

For more informed comment about rail and light rail generally, see:

  1. Modern Railways Magazine
  2. Rail Magazine
  3. The Light Rail Transit Association (membership includes Tramways and Urban Transit Magazine – see what other cities in the UK & EU/beyond have)
“Isn’t there already a rail line from Cambridge to Ely? Why do we need another one?”

The regular passengers of the Cambridge-Ely railway services can tell you better than I can about the delays and overcrowding on that stretch of the railway. Building an alternative rail route to Ely not only increases the resilience of public transport when that line inevitably breaks down (broken locomotives, overhead wires down, and so on), but also provides additional services to the re-opened Soham railway station. Furthermore, it also provides a boost to the business case for upgrading the single tracked section of rail lines between Cambridge and Newmarket, downgraded in a previous era of local history.

Public transport to Newmarket Races

As a leisure venue for both horse racing and concerts, and also as a business venue, there is a strong economic case for for having a light rail stop constructed there as part of any new line between Cambridge and Newmarket. This is aside from the debate about whether horse racing should even be a thing in an animal rights / political context – which is a separate debate outside of this post. (Closing down the industry and thus the race course would result in a very different assessment outside not just of the site, but of the entire local economy and cultural history of Newmarket the town).

Above – from G-Maps here. The existing Newmarket railway line towards Cambridge would need a new light rail line heading out towards the racecourse and then onto Swaffam Prior and Bottisham, where close to the A14 junction both a rail freight interchange and a park’n’ride could be built to enable car-free access to Cambridge, and last mile delivery via local cycle/e-couriers for small packets for online-ordered goods. Note such a system would increase the cost of goods ordered online, but then it would help rebalance retail towards local high street shops who have higher rental costs to pay.

Either way, there is a political debate to be had, and it’s up to local residents to let their elected representatives know what their views are.

Food for thought?

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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