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Growing support for Wisbech-March reopening

Campaigners in north Cambridgeshire seeking to get a mothballed line reopened to spur economic growth are pleased with the amount of support they have gained recently.

In the summer, a positive GRIP 2 feasibility study and outline business case on Wisbech-March reopening was published, and now those backing the project are engaging with Network Rail to take it forward.

The estimated cost of reopening the line, which closed to passengers in 1968 and to freight 15 years ago, ranges from £70m to £111m. The benefit-cost ratio depends on a number of factors, including service frequencies – themselves potentially dependent on upgrade work at Ely North Junction.

Steve Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire, told RTM: “We should move quickly, because the growth potential of Cambridge supports us doing so. We don’t want to constrain the economic growth of Cambridge – and Cambridge is booming.”

Asked whether he expected the scheme to get high-level backing in the current environment of project slippages and cost overruns, he said: “Each scheme needs to be looked at on its own merits, but it’s clear from the GRIP 2 study that the benefits are extremely strong.”

119 2

Key to acronyms: PVB: Present Value of Benefits, PVC: Present Value Cost, NPV: Net Present Value, BCR: Benefits:costs ratio. Click on the image to enlarge it. Source: Study into Re-Opening of March to Wisbech Rail Link – Cambridgeshire County Council / Mott MacDonald

Discussing the possible frequency and timetable options, the MP said: “The key thing is that we get the connection in place. So we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

“Fenland is a district where less than two miles of the entire district is dual-carriageway. So, realistically, trying to connect the significant housing potential of Fenland to two of the five fastest-growing cities – Peterborough and Cambridge – you can see the logic of getting the train link in there given the state of the road network.

“The logic is to look at rail, and the significant benefits, in that the track is there. Okay, it will need re-laying; but we don’t have the problem of having to have land acquisition, it’s already there. We don’t have the problem of interference with existing trains, because it’s stand-alone. We don’t have the problem of tunnels or mountains or significant difficulties in terms of landscape, because we’re very flat. So, while there are one or two obstacles – like the A47 – generally speaking, Network Rail say it’s a fairly benign scheme that we’re looking at.”


Above: Steve Barclay MP

Barclay said that with housing much cheaper in the Fenland area than it is in Cambridge, but more high-quality jobs in Cambridge and at Cambridge Science Park, better transport links could be a big driver of both economic growth and new housing.

“What we’re trying to do is, in essence, what has been done in Corby – it’s a fairly similar scheme.”

The outline business case notes: “The preferred option comprises reinstatement of the former heavy rail alignment between March and Wisbech and construction of a new station at Wisbech, enabling a maximum of 36 return services per day between Wisbech and Cambridge. The fallback option entails 18 return services per day between Wisbech and Cambridge, and an additional 18 return services per day between Wisbech and March.”

Last month, the businesses, campaigners and political backers of the scheme hosted a Parliamentary dinner, attended by Network Rail’s route MD Richard Schofield and others. Anglian Water chief executive Peter Simpson is playing a big part in the campaign, as part of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough local enterprise partnership, as is Railfuture.

The project was one of five “specified projects” in the East Anglia draft franchise agreement in the invitation to tender documents, and Barclay said that ministers at the Department for Communities & Local Government and the Department for Transport are supportive.

(Map image at top of page reproduced from Railfuture March-Wisbech campaign page. Find out more here)


Norwich In 90 Is Numpty   30/10/2015 at 13:47

About time too - whilst EA lost many lines due in part to Norfolk County Councils anti rail stance - closure of Wymondham - Dereham - Lynn is a perfect example the pendulum has now swung the other way, the line from Ely North Jn to Trowse Upper (Norwich) should be electrified asap and integrated into Thameslink as Norwich has no high quality jobs but Cambridge does whilst the Wisbech Branch is an easy win - with the East West route reopened to serve Cambridge science park re railing the failed bus way to St Ives and across to March to integrate into a re opened Wisbech Branch may be a real hope for this area - as well as reopening from Shelford to Haverhill and Sudbury. Norwich in 90 is a waste of money and resources, far more cost effective to improve other routes first.

Jerry Alderson   30/10/2015 at 14:35

I am pleased that you have highlighted one of Railfuture's key campaigns - in fact it was Railfuture that did the hard work to get this on the political agenda including delivering leaflets to 13,000 homes, for example - and that you also give Railfuture a fleeting mention. The uncredited map was produced by Railfuture, by the way.

Tim   30/10/2015 at 14:55

Great idea, hope this scheme gets the backing it needs

RTM   30/10/2015 at 14:57

Hi Jerry, thanks for flagging that up - the map was meant to be credited to Railfuture when the mouse hovers over it, but I see that's not working. We'll update the article to make the credit clear.

Andrew Gwilt   02/11/2015 at 00:32

I think the Wisbech line could be opened in a few years if approved and to be reopened with a new Norwich-Wisbech and Cambridge-Wisbech services operated by Abellio Greater Anglia to happen once the new railway line is reopened.

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