Metro Mayor says restoring the heavy rail link between Wisbech and Cambridge would be practicable and provide value for money

Mayor James PalmerMayor James Palmer
Mayor James Palmer
Metro Mayor, James Palmer has said restoring the heavy rail link between Wisbech and Cambridge would be practicable and provide real value for money.

His comments came as members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA) Transport and Infrastructure Committee held their meeting (Wednesday), to approve the Full Business Case for the project.

Mayor Palmer said: “I recently had discussions with the Minister of State for Transport, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, to highlight the importance of Wisbech rail for the prosperity and growth of the north of Cambridgeshire area.

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“I’m due to meet the Minister again following the review of the business case in which I hope we can find a route to progress this project further.

“I know CPCA officers have already met with the Department of Transport and Network Rail, with further engagement planned later this month.

“I’m encouraged by our recent discussions with central government departments and that Wisbech Rail is now firmly on the radar, and we will continue to work with them to progress this scheme into the next stages”.

Anna Graham, Portfolio Manager Highways England, added: “The most viable and profitable service would see a two-trains per hour service running between Wisbech and Cambridge to an, as yet, unbuilt new station site in central Wisbech.

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“Capacity for an hourly Wisbech to Cambridge service running through the busy Ely Junction is, we believe, available now and securing additional capacity in the future forms part of the planning we have undertaken already with the Department of Transport.

“The economic case concludes that the call for a heavy rail option to Wisbech has a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.19 which classed as ‘high’.

“The key outcomes of the draft business case were presented to the CPCA Board members on June 3 when the figures were also in draft, but since then certain risk elements have increased so that the change in capital cost estimates are £2.7m and the change in the risk allowance is now £9.3m.

“However, the BCR with these additional figures included remains at 2.19, with the Restoring Railways Fund (RRF) offers the best opportunity for national grant funding.”

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Cllr Chris Seaton (Conservative, Fenland District Council), said: “I am delighted to see this report come before the committee because this project is essential for March, Wisbech, Fenland and right through to Cambridge.

“The ‘pinch-point’ at Ely, while it says in the report it is ‘viable at the moment’, will remain a problem until it is sorted out once and for all – and that still seems to be a long time coming – but on the whole, I’m very happy to put this business case forward.”

Mayor Palmer replied: “I spent a significant amount of time talking about the Ely Junction matter to the Minister when I met with him because of course that also affects trains to Norwich, Ipswich, Felixstowe, into the Midlands as well as trains coming into Cambridge from London, so it is a massively important hub.

“Just to put the ridiculousness of it into perspective – we have Europe’s largest container port at Felixstowe with the direct route from Felixstowe to the Midlands via Ely North.

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“But because of the ‘pinch-point’ capacity there, we’re sending freight trains from Felixstowe via London at the moment and then back up north to the Midlands – now that cannot make any sense.

“The Minsters’ constituency is Daventry, and he’s well aware of the nonsense that Ely North has been and so we’ll continue to put as much pressure as possible to get it changed.”

Members voted unanimously to support the report and take the Final Business Case to the next stage.