Metro Mayor to confront rail minister over lack of delivery from CrossCountry, while announcing more new stations

Metro Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), James Palmer, is to vo

Metro Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), James Palmer, is to voice his frustrations to Chris Heaton-Harris, minister of state at the Department for Transport, about the continued lack of delivery from the rail service of CrossCountry (XT Trains Ltd). Picture: GOV.UK - Credit: Archant

Metro Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA), James Palmer, is to voice his frustrations to government about the continued lack of delivery from the rail service of CrossCountry (XT Trains Ltd).

Addressing members of the transport and infrastructure committee at their online meeting on September 9, Mayor Palmer said: “The commitment from the CPCA to improve rail delivery in our region is absolute and will continue.

“We are already in discussions with government about the well-known problems at Ely North, which is such a blockage to railway timings.

“My frustration with the lack of delivery, despite so many promises from CrossCountry is such that I feel I must now take up the matter with the Minister for Rail.

“The CrossCountry franchise was due to conclude in March 2016, but was extended until the end of 2019.

“An invitation to tender was to have been issued in October 2018, but this was cancelled to allow recommendations from a report into the franchise system to be incorporated, the upshot of which was CrossCountry had their franchise award extended yet again until the end of October 2020.

“Time and again I’ve met with the management at CrossCountry to complain about the poor service from Cambridgeshire to Birmingham, and time and again they’ve promised improvements – none of which have been forthcoming.

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“In my opinion, the extension to that franchise must now be brought into question, and I shall voice my frustrations on behalf of the rail travellers of Cambridgeshire forced to use this poor service, when I next speak with the minister of rail.”

MORE: Train operator CrossCountry to stop its trains halting three Fen stations, blaming a ‘resource issue’Members also heard from Robert Jones, transport programme manager CPCA, who said: “We can announce to the committee that not only has work now commenced on the site of the new railway station at Soham, but that Network Rail have said they will be completing their works five months earlier than planned.

“Soham has been without a rail connection for almost 55 years. This project will reinstate the railway station at Soham, providing a direct link to Ely to the west and Ipswich to the east.

“This will bring sustainable transport benefits to the growing market town of Soham and support economic and housing growth.

“The project has significant public and partner support, and the design will provide an attractive approach and setting to the new station, as well as facilitating access.

“Combined Authority officers have agreed a programme of efficiencies with Network Rail that has resulted in this programme acceleration, and it’s now expected the new railway station will be complete in December 2021, rather than May 2022, a saving of five months.”

MORE: ‘We must use our public transport networks – or risk losing them’ urges Mayor James PalmerCllr Joshua Schumann (East Cambridgeshire District Council), responded: “Firstly as a Soham resident, but also as the former County Councillor for Soham and current County Councillor for the villages surrounding Soham that this really is very positive news.

“I’m obviously delighted to hear about the progress on the station because it will be of such huge benefit to the local community – and even more delighted that its going to be delivered ahead of schedule.

“Just to put the magnitude of the project into context – Soham station has had a chequered past: it was destroyed in June 1944 during the Second World War, when a munitions train carrying high explosive bombs caught fire and blew up.

“But even that couldn’t stop the railway and, contrary to popular belief Soham station was completely rebuilt.

“Sadly, though bombs could not stop Soham station, Dr Beeching could – and so for many years now there hasn’t been a station, despite the high growth in both residential and industrial developments.

“Therefore, it only seems right that when we’re talking about sustainable transportation systems and taking cars off of the roads, that we are about to see railway transportation return to the Soham area.

“I never miss an opportunity to thank you personally Mayor Palmer, for your doggedness in supporting this project and seeing that the work has come through.”

Metro Mayor, James Palmer, responded: “Thank you for that Cllr Schumann and I hope that in the next few years we will also see the re-opening of Wisbech railway station, and proper improvements to other Fenland stations.

“I know there are ambitions to bring forward a station at Sawston, which I am supportive of, and I’m absolutely committed to the delivery of improvements to rail infrastructure across our county.

“The work at Soham station doesn’t stop there – a loop at Newmarket would greatly enhance the opportunities of people there to get to Cambridge and to London.

“Not only that, but it would alleviate the pressure on the Kings Lynn to Kings Cross line, and I’ve recently been in discussions with The Jockey Club in Newmarket about improving the rail line to the west of Cambridge to Newmarket and to Bury St. Edmunds and beyond.

“It might not be in Cambridgeshire, but its tremendously important for our travel to work areas and the growth of the Cambridgeshire region.”

The next meeting of the CPCA Transport and Infrastructure Committee will be on November 4.