Network Rail's plan for track material recycling centre at Whitemoor Yard set for approval

Story by: TOM JACKSON PHASE two of Network Rail s mammoth Whitemoor project – to create a national track material recycling centre in March – is set to receive the support of Cambridgeshire County Council. Despite protests from residents, councillors are


PHASE two of Network Rail's mammoth Whitemoor project - to create a national track material recycling centre in March - is set to receive the support of Cambridgeshire County Council.

Despite protests from residents, councillors are on Thursday due to recommend to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that permission is granted subject to more than 50 conditions being met.

The �30million investment is an extension of the scheme which saw 18 kilometres of new sidings created for train maintenance, and is set to make Whitemoor Yard a world-class depot.

Twelve letters received by the county council's development control sited fears including vibration and noise from passing trains; fumes and smoke in gardens; dust from unmade roads; noise from shunting engines; high-pitch screeching at night; use of warning horns and light pollution.

There were also issues about the destruction of wildlife on-site; falling property value; increased delays at level crossings due to increased movements; risk of soil contamination; and creating a further blot on the landscape close to Whitemoor Prison and Longhill wind turbine.

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Development control officer Mark North said: "There is potential for impact on local amenity, however design and mitigation measures have been proposed to limit these potential impacts.

"With the imposition of planning conditions and a Section 106 Agreement the application falls within policies and is considered acceptable in land use.

"On balance it is concluded that this council should indicate to the Secretary of State that it is minded to approve the application, subject to the satisfactory completion of a legal agreement and attachments of relevant planning conditions."

Phase one of the project, to create a supply facility for maintenance and renewal of railway, was approved in 2007.

Phase two of the project, on 62 acres owned by Network Rail, will feed off the existing rail infrastructure and create at least 25 jobs filled "from the local population".

The scheme will create:

• Sixteen sidings and two loco sidings.

• An area to dismantle, clean and recycle sleepers, rails and fastenings that can be reused.

• A switchings and crossings recycling shed which will store, process and weld useable parts.

• A compound to allow storage and loading of equipment used by Network Rail contractors.

• A new wagon maintenance area, which allows for an expansion of the existing facility to serve the fleet of engineering wagons used to maintain the railway.

The new yard comes after Network Rail identified a need for additional recycling capacity. The majority of used sleepers and all contaminated track ballast are currently sent to landfill.

Mr North said: "Currently 100,000 tonnes of used ballast is handled by the phase one site, however there is a need to establish a washing plant to process ballast too contaminated for immediate reuse.

"This will prevent 50,000 tonnes of ballast being sent to landfill each year."

The solids suspended from the washing process will then be fed into a pressing machine to form "cake" and will go to landfill.

A number of residents' complaints drew attention to the use of horns. Health and safety law require railway personnel on the ground to be advised of train movement and this is usually done through sounding the horn when moving off.

Mobile radios are used by track staff to minimise the need for horns during shunting movements, and instructions in the yard seek to minimise the use of horns at night time.

Mr North said: "An appropriate balance has to be struck between health and safety on the railway and local amenity and a general prohibition of the use of train warning horns is impractical."

Despite the proposed doubling in size of the yard, rail operations will only slightly increase train movements into Whitemoor - spare capacity is already available.

But shunting locomotives will be subject to the same noise restrictions agreed following completion of phase one. Locomotives were modified to reduce noise after complaints.

Fenland District Council also asked for locomotives to be fitted with noise abatement equipment.

Mr North said: "The noise abatement standards achieved should act as the benchmark for future operations at the site.

"Consequently it is recommended that the yard operators only use shunting locomotives that exhibit noise characteristics which comply with the reduced noise emission standards previously attained."

Sidings for the shunting engines will also be moved away from homes. Further rail edge greasers, which reduce wheel/track noise, will also be installed.

Mr North said: "It is considered that noise impacts can be satisfactorily managed on the site."

Air quality in the area was described by Mr North as "generally good", but no breaches are expected from both construction and operational equipment.

Residents may have to cope with exhaust fumes for short periods though when downwind, when trains are prepared and brakes are tested.

Mr North said: "There are a number of potentially dust-generating activities on-site which could lead to adverse impacts at local receptors. A comprehensive dust suppression system including sprinklers has been designed for the site."

Lighting will not be obtrusive, again following the requirements carried out during phase one construction.

A contamination assessment carried out by Network Rail found no "significant impacts" on soil or groundwater during construction and site operation. With mitigation measures implemented, the impact is considered by Mr North as "negligible".

An archaeological dig is set to be carried out before construction, with Cambridgeshire Archaeology raising the potential for Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British material existing on-site.

The site is the second largest County Wildlife Site in Fenland. It is of regional importance to vertebrates, of county importance for flora, habitats and amphibians, and potentially county importance for the resident common lizard.

A 12-and-a-half-acre habitat will be retained at Whitemoor, with a further 25 acres to be enhanced at Conington Sidings near Sawtry. In addition, a financial contribution will be made to March Country Park.

Mr North said: "Natural England, the Wildlife Trust and the county council's environment section have been consulted on the ecological assessment and are content with the proposals and mitigation scheme subject to those being secured through planning conditions and a legal agreement."

He added: "The proposal will affect areas of ecological importance. However, mitigation schemes to protect certain areas and provide off-site improvements... is felt to mitigate any loss of ecology."

Access to the site will be gained through the current entrance - via the roundabout of Hundred Road and the Hostmoor link road.

"Site traffic will not therefore travel through the town centre or local residential areas to gain access to the phase two development site," said Mr North.

For pedestrians and cycles, there is a gated access off the public cycle route that was provided as part of phase one. In phase two, 20 bicycle parking spaces will be created.

Eleven junctions were assessed for traffic impact, with a small increase in queuing at two unidentified junctions "anticipated".

The site could open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, because Network Rail considers it "essential" to have the ability to load and offload wagons all-year round.

Mr North said: "While 24-hour loading and offloading may not be a permanent activity, it will enable the site to deal with intense rail construction such as the run-up to the 2012 Olympics when a number of rail projects are planned."

Network Rail asked for concrete screening and crushing to take place from 7am-7pm, with track material recycling and handling from 7am-9pm. However, the Mineral and Waste Planning Authority said operation hours should be 7am-6pm Monday to Friday and 7am-1pm Saturdays.

Prior to a public consultation last year Network Rail project manager David Millar said: "We are investing a lot of money in the East Anglia area and this new facility will be world class."

Whitemoor Marshalling Yard and locomotive depot was formed in the mid-19th century. By 1933 it was the largest of its kind in the country.

Further sidings were added during the Second World War and during the 60s a new diesel locomotive maintenance depot was built.

But the site became relatively disused during the 70s as rail freight switched to single commodity trains. The site soon became derelict.

The last rail infrastructure was removed from the site in the 90s, with Whitemoor Prison built on the northern part of the site in the 80s. Homes were also built to the east in the 1990s.


• Go-East - noted the application and requests confirmation of decision to update records.

• Fenland District Council - raise no objections subject to conditions.

• March Town Council - recommend approval.

• British Transport Police - no issues surrounding site security on basis that development will be within existing fence line and CCTV will be expanded.

• Environment Agency - no objection on flood risk grounds. Risk assessment should be carried out before work starts with respect to contaminated land in the interests of water quality. No infiltration of surface water into ground allowed unless there is no risk to controlled waters, and no piling allowed on site except on parts where it's shown there is no resultant unacceptable risk to groundwater.

• New Communities (Transport Assessment) - no objections subject to improved cycle links from the site, and financial contribution to Market Towns Transport Strategy. Suggested improvements to pedestrian and cycle facilities on Norwood Road bridge.

• Cambridgeshire Highways - remedial repairs must carried out along Hostmoor Avenue, from the new Tesco roundabout to new link road. Also, footway link to Norwood Road must be completed before business operations start.


• About 600,000 concrete sleepers are removed from track each year, about 500,000 of which require disposal and are often sent to landfill.

• Four hundred thousand wooden sleepers are removed per year. Some can be utilized but 100,000 tonnes of wood is disposed of annually.

• In 2007, 35,000 tonnes of contaminated ballast was disposed. This can be washed and produce a secondary aggregate for reuse.

• About 500 track switches and crossings are replaced every year, most of which are lost through a lack of processing facilities.

• Currently, 40,000 tonnes of rail is sent per year from Doncaster Local Distribution Centre by commercial vehicles to remote facilities to sort, grade and recycle. This would be more effectively handled at rail connected sites.

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