First trains along restored Wisbech to March line could be running by 2028 after business case gets the green light
PUBLISHED: 14:45 08 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:06 10 July 2020
Final approval of the business case for re-opening the March to Wisbech rail link was given the green light today (Wednesday) by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA).
If the Government supports the preferred option which CAPCA has agreed, the first commuters could be using the line into Cambridge by 2028.
It is envisaged the scheme will be developed and built between 2024 and 2027.
The business plan commits to a rail station in Wisbech and says 19 houses and up to 120 acres of land (valued at £7.7m at 2017 prices) will need to be acquired for the line to reopen.
An assessment by CAPCA officers pointed out that the rail upgrade costs represent less than half the core capital cost.
“A larger proportion of the cost is driven by the need for highways solutions to bring the 22 level crossings on the historic line up to modern safety standards with closures and road diversions,” said their report.
However, that cost could be reduced significantly if the rail authorities agree to consider alternative approaches for managing the level crossings that could address the safety risk whilst reducing costs of the highways works.
Mott MacDonald, who produced the business case, says: “Closure of the 22 existing level crossings should be carried out through construction of five highway diversion schemes,” says Matt Donald. “These schemes include seven new bridges.
“At March station, an additional platform is needed. A new platform at the west end of the old platform 3 is recommended, with an available capacity for a 2-Car Class 170 train.”
A revised track layout at March is also needed and to maintain free access, a new station footbridge with lifts is required.
A passing loop at Coldham, approximately 350m long, is also needed.
Councillor Chris Seaton (Fenland) told today’s meeting of the transport and infrastructure committee that re-opening the line “has been a long time coming”.
He said: “I am really pleased to see this report; it is essential for growth and future of Wisbech, March and Fenland that this gets the go ahead.”
Mayor James Palmer has already held talks with rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris about finding the capital costs, the most likely source being the Restoring Railways Fund (RRF).
Mott McDonald says the “financial appraisal showed that the scheme would not be viable without a significant grant funding contribution from the UK government”.
But it does fit, they say, with the objectives of the RRF, given the project’s objectives around ‘levelling up’ deprived parts of north Cambridgeshire.
The RRF is divided into three funding areas, new ideas, accelerating existing proposals and proposals for new or restored stations
The report recognises that direct Wisbech to Cambridge services are dependent on other Network Rail projects (most notably at Ely North) which is why it would unlikely trains could start operating before 2028.
Apart from ticket sales, the report also outlines the potential of car parking fees based on 200 additional spaces. By 2053 this could produce up to £300,000 a year.
Wisbech has been without a station since 1968 when, following the Beeching Report, the railway line closed to passengers.
In 2000, freight transport also ceased operating on the line.
A two trains per hour service should run between Wisbech and Cambridge to reach the highest Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR).
In order to run through to Cambridge, train paths through the busy Ely junction need to be available.
“Capacity for an hourly service between Wisbech and Cambridge is we believe available now, prior to the enhancements proposed within the Ely Area Capacity Enhancements project,” says CAPCA. Mott McDonald is confident that Cambridgeshire authorities can deliver such schemes.
It says that the county successfully delivered “the longest guided busway in the world” and also noted the success of delivering the Ely Southern Bypass.
Their report added: “It is worth highlighting the wealth of experience within the CAPCA transport team that have been utilising their knowledge and expertise to help design the scheme and would be involved in bringing the corridor to completion”.
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