Boost for Haverhill to Cambridge rail link revival hopes

Nottingham, United Kingdom - April 28, 2016: A modern electric tram pulls out of the railway connection station in Nottingham City centre, with the famous Lace market district in the background.
Nottingham, United Kingdom - April 28, 2016: A modern electric tram pulls out of the railway connection station in Nottingham City centre, with the famous Lace market district in the background.

The long-held dream of reinstating a rail line from Haverhill to Cambridge has taken a huge step forward this week at Westminster.

Haverhill’s MP, Matt Hancock had a meeting with Cllr James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authorities, MPs such as Heidi Allen and Lucy Frazer, councillors and other interested parties at the House of Commons today to discuss the feasibility of a light railway link between the two towns.

Dr Colin M. Harris from Cambridge Connect at his office in Coton

Dr Colin M. Harris from Cambridge Connect at his office in Coton

Mr Hancock said: “It is clear that with the expansion of the town since the last railway was closed in 1967 and with the growth in population expected to rise further over the next few decades, that a railway connection to Haverhill is needed.

“As everyone who lives in the area knows, the roads to Haverhill are under considerable pressure due to the sheer weight of traffic, leading frequently to severe tailbacks and very often, fatal accidents.

“Alongside improvements to the roads, I am pushing to bring a railway back to Haverhill. “There is no doubt that better communications will bring an economic boost to the town and an improved quality of life for the residents.”

A key figure in the proposal, and one of those attending the Westminster meeting is Dr Colin Harris, chairman and founder of Cambridge Connect, which was formed 18 months ago in response to the Greater Cambridge City Deal to create an enduring system of rapid and sustainable transit that would help address the transport challenges facing Cambridge, including Haverhill.

The feasibility study for the proposal is expected to be completed by early next year, said Dr Harris, who has been in discussions with Rail Haverhill and Rail Future in the last few months ‘to develop a more strategic plan’.

He added that the light railway would extend from Cambridge’s main station to the Biomedical Campus, which includes Addenbrooke’s Hospital and then to Granta Park and Haverhill, following the old line that existed before the 1967 closure of Haverhill’s station.

The previous engineering study commissioned by the City Deal was based on a heavy rail line and estimated a cost of £600m, but a light railway, explained Dr Harris, would cost much less.

“We think, in the first instance, the primary need is for moving people to and from Haverhill and we think light rail is actually a technology that could do that much more cost effectively than heavy rail.

“I don’t know whether light rail or heavy rail is the answer. “What we need to do is do a detailed piece of work to establish that based on evidence.

“The route to Haverhill, if it’s single track, could be in the order of £150m to £250m or double track could be £250m to £350m,” he said.

“These estimates we are making are very preliminary and we are calling for proper studies to be done so they are more reliable.”

A railway link would also alleviate pressure on the A1307, making it safer, improve accessibility to both towns, thereby benefitting businesses and commuters and people seeking to buy a property who are unable to afford the high prices in Cambridge.

“By having more people going on the rail, if we can get 1.500 to 2,000 people per day going on the rail that hugely reduces the pressure on the A1307, explained Dr Harris.

“What we are trying to do in the Cambridge region is a modal shift from the private care to public transport, either to bus or rail.”

Studies have shown that traffic congestion has been reduced in a number of European cities with improving rail links, which prove much more effective in generating modal shift than buses do, said Dr Harris.

While trams and light rail are the same thing, said Dr Harris, the two are distinguishable through the fact that trams use a regular road, sharing space with other forms of transport, whereas light rail uses a segregated route.

The Haverhill to Cambridge light rail would operate on a segregated route.

Dr Harris added: “I’m thinking that in six years we could have the trams rolling from Haverhill to Cambridge but of course it all depends on political will and getting the finances.

“I think we could do it if we have the right people getting involved and showing commitment and taking a long term view.”