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‘Capital of the Fens’ back on track? Mayor’s plan for Wisbech rail gets green flag

‘Capital of the Fens’ back on track? Mayor’s plan for Wisbech rail gets green flag

In a historic vote, the business case for re-opening the Wisbech rail link was this week approved by the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority.

The Transport and Infrastructure Committee was asked to accept the conclusions of the Full Business Case – the FBC –  that restoring a heavy rail link between Wisbech and Cambridge would be practicable and offer value for money –  and give the final version a thumbs-up.

Members approved the case –  and if the Government backs the Combined Authority’s chosen option and helps with funding, the first commuters and passengers could be travelling into Cambridge by 2028.

Wisbech Standard editor John Elworthy tweeted: “Hugely important day for Wisbech today as @CambsPboroCA signed off the final business plan to re-open the Wisbech to March rail line. I watched the moment live…make no mistake, this was a historic moment. A frisson of excitement running through me.”

The editor’s comments reflect a long and passionate campaign within the Wisbech community and surrounding area. Wisbech – ‘the Capital of the Fens’ – remains one of the largest towns in the UK without a rail connection.  Residents of the town have pushed hard for the restoration of their passenger service, ended by the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, for decades.

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, joined and elevated the campaign upon his election, and has already met the rail minister the Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP to discuss plans for reviving Wisbech rail link and its potential funding.

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Mayor James Palmer:

“This is a vital jump forward on a vital project. It’s not just close to the heart of the local community, it doesn’t just offer greener promise than reliance on the car, but it’s essential for the future of Wisbech, March and of Fenland in general. Wisbech has got massive potential and reviving its connection to the rail network can unlock genuine value and opportunity for an area that badly needs it. ‘Levelling-up’ can’t be a reality until communities like Wisbech enjoy the same access to advantage that others enjoy, and that’s what I’ll keep on working for.”

It is foreseen that development and construction of the Wisbech scheme will occur between 2024 and 2027.  Having examined many options, the FBC concludes that the most commercially viable solution is the heavy rail service – ‘proper railway’ – serving a station placed centrally in Wisbech. It says this would be transformative for the economic potential of Wisbech and that a two trains per hour service between Wisbech and Cambridge would reach the highest benefit-cost ratio and could be implemented without waiting for Ely North Junction to be developed.

Restoring a rail link is deemed critical for supporting future growth in Wisbech, attracting investment to the town, linking affordable housing with good employment and education. Direct services between Wisbech and Cambridge will unlock better job opportunities for Wisbech residents and offer a greener alternative to commuting by car.

The Wisbech Rail project is a candidate for accelerating existing proposals with potential funding from the Restoring Railways Fund. The Combined Authority’s application for this funding is sponsored by the Member of Parliament for North East Cambridgeshire, the Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP.