Article by Peter Wakefield, Vice-Chair of Railfuture East Anglia reproduced from the September 2020 edition of RailEast
Jubilation as the business plan for the restoration of passenger trains to Wisbech is approved.
At its July 2020 meeting the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority Board approved the Business Plan outlining the best way to restore passenger train services from Wisbech to March. As you can imagine, the decision was greeted with much delight in and around the town and district.
“Good Value for Money”
The Business Case decision is based on a service of two trains per hour operating between WisbechMarch-Ely-Cambridge. This produces a very good benefit cost ratio of 4.4:1 and is deemed “good value for money”. It is based around the town’s current population of some 35,000 people and not conditional on the additional housing planned, which nevertheless, will double its population. The railway will enable the housing plans to be progressed.
Improvements to the adjacent road network and utility costs will be around half of the project’s predicted £184m cost (which excludes risk) as all level crossings will be abolished. Several of them will be replaced by road over rail bridges.
The rest will be spent on:
• a station close to the town centre at Wisbech, together with a 200-space car park and bus interchange
• a passing loop at Coldham
• a cycleway parallel to the railway between Wisbech and March
The project will involve significant investment at March in addition to the enhancements outlined in the June 2020 issue of RAIL EAST (186). Additional enhancements will include
• the disused platform, now numbered 3, restored for Wisbech trains together with a 200-space car park on the north side of the station
• the historic building on disused platform 4 being repurposed to provide a new north side entrance from this car park
• step-free access from this new station entrance AND the existing southern entrance by the provision of a new footbridge/lifts across the centre part of the station to platforms 1-3
• considerable enhancements to the track layout and signalling with the two manual signal boxes abolished and their work being transferred to a new panel at Cambridge Power Box (see comment about ETCS on next page).
It is noteworthy that this project is more than the crucial provision of a railway station in Wisbech. The service to and from the town will also hugely benefit March as three trains an hour will operate to Cambridge. The Business Case predicts that the already high numbers of March users travelling towards Cambridge will be tripled by this extra service provision. The expected growth in new residents at Manea, Ely and above all at the new towns planned at Waterbeach and Cambridge North will be well catered for by this frequent Fenland stopping service. The funding for this important project has to be finally established. It may be descoped to make it more affordable, but it is worth considering that these overall high capital costs make for long term low operating costs and to reiterate, the CPCA Board agreed that the project is ‘good value for money’.
Finished and opened by 2028
The Business Case predicts a restoration of train services from Wisbech by 2028. This is several years away, but not long to get the resignalling and all the necessary capacity enhancements throughout the Ely area completed. Without this activity there can be no extra train services. However, there is a lot to do on the Wisbech line and at March. These works must be completed well before the resignalling works. Wisbech has waited too long already. We urge all our MPs and councils to lobby hard to get all these works funded and completed before 2028.
ETCS – digital signalling
Subsequently it seems this now may not be the signalling plan as it is reported that the introduction of digital technology on the East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross over the 160kms through Peterborough to just south of Grantham by 2024, the country’s first major mainline deployment of European Train Control System (ETCS) signalling, will be extended on from Peterborough to March/ Wisbech, Ely and King’s Lynn, allowing the elimination of no fewer than 10 Victorian -era manual signal boxes. This is to be welcomed as ETCS will provide extra capacity along this already remarkably busy railway line.