Mayor James Palmer has said growing pressure on existing transport infrastructure around Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) makes a clear and urgent case for a study exploring the feasibility of an earlier interim railway station at Cambridge South.
The full station at Cambridge South, which will serve the CBC, is not expected to be built until around 2027, with the Combined Authority one of four funding bodies for the current phase of works led by Network Rail.
The Combined Authority Board in March will be asked to decide whether to approve a study into the feasibility of an interim station delivered years ahead of the full station, including how much it would cost.
Mayor Palmer’s ambition is for any feasible interim station to be operational by 2021 to 2023.
A new station at Cambridge South is fully supported by Government and will be delivered as part of the East-West Rail project, which will link the city with Oxford and Milton Keynes. But Mayor Palmer believes that waiting around eight years for the station is not an option, given the transport pressure at the CBC now, the growth expected over the next ten years, and its strategic importance to ‘UK plc’. This importance is exemplified by AstraZeneca’s investment in its new headquarters on the site. With CBC home to other world leading and pioneering science enterprises, teaching hospitals, and academic and research institutes, the area has been recognised in the UK’s Industrial Strategy as vital to the future of the national economy. Cambridge is competing internationally to retain and attract business and investment so improving infrastructure is seen as essential to maintaining the area’s attractiveness as a place to locate.
The busy campus is also home to Addenbrooke’s hospital, and as well as the new AstraZeneca headquarters, the relocated Papworth Hospital is also due to open soon. There are already more than 17,250 people employed at the campus, with the potential for at least 27,000 jobs by 2030. There are currently an estimated 26,500 visits to the campus every day from patients, staff, academics, scientists and visitors, with future growth set to increase this number. The Greater Cambridge Partnership has estimated that most of those trips will be taken by car if current travel trends continue.
There have been increasingly urgent calls from organisations based on the campus, as well as local residents, for delivering new transport infrastructure like Cambridge South more quickly. Mayor Palmer has said the current situation is already unsustainable, warning that further growth is threatened by waiting until 2027 for the station.
An interim solution for Cambridge South Station features as one of the Combined Authority’s 12 priority projects in its new 2019/20 Business Plan and funding of £100,000 for the study was allocated in the 2019/20 budget. The proposed study would cost about £90,000 and would include looking at the possibility of a two platform, four track solution, which would be designed to transition into the final station solution.
An external consultant would be appointed to deliver the study, which will also include input from Network Rail, Government officials and the Combined Authority. It is anticipated that this work will be broken down into an initial investigation of the current rail timetabling to see whether suitable stopping times can be incorporated. There is then an option to expand to a further investigation around land usage and the integration with the final station solution.
Last year’s Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) final report, chaired by economist Dame Kate Barker, identified the deficit in transport infrastructure investment in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough as a key threat to continued growth.
The emerging plans for a Cambridgeshire Metro, where the strategic outline business case is set to be presented to the March Combined Authority Board meeting, would also include a stop at the biomedical campus.
Mayor James Palmer said: “I think we have to ask ourselves whether simply doing nothing and waiting until around 2027 for a vital railway station is the best we can do for this important part of our region and for and the UK economy as a whole.
“I don’t think it is, so I believe we are obliged to carry out this study to fully explore what the possibility is of delivering an interim solution much quicker.
“The design and construction of the interim station is one thing, but timetabling is also a significant obstacle to overcome in order to get trains stopping. This is a hugely busy part of the rail network. That’s something I will be working very closely with Government and Network Rail on, because without that timetable commitment, we will clearly not be able to deliver.
“The Government is supportive of Cambridge South and understands the strong case for delivering an interim solution. The biomedical campus is home to world leading, pioneering businesses, and health and research organisations which are strategically vital to the UK as a whole. We have clear evidence from the CPIER report that if we do not invest in transport infrastructure, that future economic growth and innovation could tail off. I don’t think we or the Government can afford to let that happen.”
The decision at the March Combined Authority Board meeting would commit funding to the study only. If the study found that there was a strong case for an interim station solution, the project would likely be dependent on continued funding from the Combined Authority. A further report would then need to be brought to the Board to take the next steps.