Questions and Answers
Q1. Why is CAST.IRON proposing this scheme?
Since the busway was approved CAST.IRON has often been seen as an anti-busway protest group. In fact, CAST.IRON was formed as a positive organisation, to purchase the then-mothballed railway line and reopen it for passenger services. CAST.IRON would like to return to promoting schemes rather than just highlighting the flaws in other schemes.
Q2. Why is CAST.IRON proposing this now?
CAST.IRON fully supports the Chesterton Sidings station. However, since April 2010 it has been claimed by the ruling Conservatives that the Sidings station will not happen. CAST.IRON believes, along with politicians from all parties and business representatives, that the station is vital to Cambridge and must proceed urgently.
Q3. Why is a decision required urgently?
Network Rail recently gave the go-ahead for a new island platform at Cambridge station, which will create extra capacity to run more trains. Considerable work will be undertaken during 2011. The costs of reinstating the track to Milton Road, erecting overhead lines and building the platforms will be reduced if it can be done at the same time. This is because extra materials can be brought on site at the same time and the tracklaying trains and overhead wiring machines will already be on site. Additionally, the railway will already be closed on some weekends for these changes at Cambridge station so no additional closures would be needed.
Because of the time needed to plan such work a decision to go ahead needs to be made in 2010.
Q4. Is CAST.IRON attempting to undermine the guided busway?
No - definitely not. CAST.IRON believes that the case for the guided busway has always been weak (journey times will be no faster than buses travelling on parallel roads) but Chesterton station should have been built at the same time as the busway needs the patronage that the station would attract.
CAST.IRON believes that the station could be the saviour of the northern section of the guided busway, as the rail journey from Milton Road to Cambridge station will be quicker than the bus journey on the congested roads. Guided buses could integrate very well with the train service, and the busway Park and Ride sites at St. Ives and Longstanton would allow rail users to use the guided bus services to avoid bringing their cars into Cambridge to use the station.
The railway track to Milton Road would only require part of the railway route, allowing a single guided busway track to be built on the other half if Chesterton Sidings station does eventually open. For this reason, CAST.IRON recommends that the railway line be built on the southern half of the former two-track railway.
Q5. Cambridgeshire County Council has said it looked at this idea years ago and estimated it would cost £16.3m.
This cost is excessive compared to other recent rail schemes. For example, Aylesbury Vale Parkway station opened in December 2008, along with a large car park and station building. More importantly, it was necessary to upgrade almost three miles of freight-only track from Aylesbury station, with new track laid and signals installed. That scheme cost around £11m, of which the government paid £8.2m. The Milton Road proposal is much simpler and would therefore be cheaper.
The county council has not explained when or how its costing was achieved or what type of station was considered. It will not be a like-for-like comparison. CAST.IRON has asked the county council to provide it with a detailed breakdown so that it can identify the differences between its proposal and the scheme that the county council evaluated. CAST.IRON's costing is realistic, particularly as it is made clear that significant savings can be made if it is constructed at the same time as the new island platform at Cambridge station.
Since the County Council conducted its study, Network Rail has introduced the concept of 'modular' stations. Pre-constructed station platforms, shelters, buildings and so on are delivered to site. This standardisation reduces the cost and time taken to build new stations and has been successfully used at the new Corby (opened 2009) and Mitcham Eastfields (opened 2008) stations. Network Rail intends to use this new method for new stations and reconstructing existing ones.
Q6. What is the Unique Selling Point of the Milton Road station?
Actually there are two USPs! Firstly, it will be close to where thousands of people work (daily commuters) and close to many houses in the northern part of Cambridge. Secondly, far less infrastructure work is needed to provide a station (e.g. just one platform, no footbridge) and therefore it can be delivered at a fraction of the cost, not least because the existing railway will not need major alteration or disruption to construct it.
Q7. Why has this station not been thought of before?
It was, in 2004. CAST.IRON proposed a Science Park station on the western side of Milton Road. However, Cambridgeshire County Council's rail consultants, Atkins Rail (ironically at the guided busway public inquiry), suggested a terminus station on the eastern side of Milton Road, which would have allowed a cross-road interchange with CAST.IRON's trains at the station on the western side.
Q8. Why are the disadvantages of Milton Road compared with a Chesterton Sidings station?
There is just one main disadvantage: Chesterton Sidings would have been a through station, allowing rail passengers to travel on northwards or to arrive from the north. This means that anyone coming from Ely, for example, would still need to travel to Cambridge station and take a second train or a bus or taxi to, say, the Science Park. However, many people will gain by having easier access to Milton Road station than one at the Sidings. Milton Road station will not prevent Chesterton sidings station from opening in the future CAST.IRON is proposing a station that can be delivered quickly and cheaply, whereas the Sidings station (which Cambridgeshire County council has been trying to open since the late 1980s) would not open until at least 2016.
Q9. What destinations would Milton Road station serve?
Any station on the lines south of Cambridge could be directly served by trains departing from Milton Road - this assumes that the branch is electrified as CAST.IRON proposes - while a single change of train or reversal at Cambridge provides access to stations to the north and the east.
CAST.IRON believes that there should be direct services to King's Cross, Liverpool Street, Stratford and Stansted along with some intermediate stations.
There is currently only an hourly train service between Cambridge and Stansted Airport. However, because of the large amount of business travel to and from the world-famous Cambridge Science Park (the largest of its kind in Europe) and the adjacent Business Park and St. Johns Innovation Centre, CAST.IRON believes that this should be a half-hourly service on weekdays, with the new service originating from Milton Road.
Q10. Why does CAST.IRON believe a Milton Road station could open when Sidings has failed?
Chesterton Sidings has been difficult to deliver because it is a major project, which is currently predicted to cost £24m and requires government funding. It also requires relocation of sidings used by the rail freight operator DB Schenker, whilst station construction will cause disruption to rail services. Milton Road station is a much smaller scheme which could be funded locally, and may require only one weekend's work to connect it back to the network.
CAST.IRON believes that this scheme is so cheap that the railway itself could fund reinstatement of the branch to Milton Road and the construction of the station through the small schemes budget that Network Rail uses to improve performance. Milton Road station would take the pressure off Cambridge station and avoid the need for expensive changes there. Without this Cambridge station will experience further unsafe levels of passenger overcrowding in the next few years if the current rate of passenger growth continues. The planned island platform at Cambridge will exacerbate overcrowding as many hundreds of people attempt to use the new footbridge, which would be reduced by Milton Road passengers already being on their train (who would otherwise have arrived at Cambridge station by other means).
Q11. Is there political support for a Milton Road station?
Yes. All politicians want to achieve something, ideally within their current term of office. Chesterton Sidings station has been on-going for 23 years and yet there is nothing tangible to show for the effort. Smaller schemes can be delivered much more easily than larger ones, but can be just as successful and appreciated by the electorate.
Q12. Who would own Milton Road station; Network Rail or Cambridgeshire county Council?
The trackbed from Milton Road to the Network Rail boundary just west of Chesterton Junction (at the Sidings) is now owned by Cambridgeshire County Council. However, the two parties could decide, and the council may sell or lease the land to Network Rail. There are several precedents for private ownership of stations, such as Warwick Parkway on the Chiltern line.
Q13. The proposed station at Chesterton sidings would have had a large station building. Will Milton Road station?
Actually, according to the county council's business plan for Chesterton sidings it would not have had a large building. CAST.IRON believes that a large building is unnecessary. Chesterton Sidings station would have been in the middle of nowhere. Most people would arrive by car, taxi of bus and would have to allow spare time in case their journey was delayed. However, many people would be able to walk directly to and from the Milton Road station, and therefore would arrive later and wait for a shorter time.
CAST.IRON believes that a ticket office should be built and that there should be a heated waiting room. However, this facility could be shared with the busway, and it may make sense to locate it on the western side of Milton Road.
Q14. In what other way will Milton Road station be different?
It is probable that there would have been ticket barriers at Chesterton Sidings station. However, Milton Road would be an open station, like Waterbeach and Newmarket stations.
Q15. Will train operators lose income through fare dodging because of a lack of barriers?
Train operators do not rely solely on barriers for revenue protection. However, Cambridge and Liverpool Street stations are already fully gated and King's Cross will also become fully gated. As long as there are barriers at one end of the journey a valid ticket will be required for each journey. For journeys to and from intermediate stations, the usual system of random ticket inspection will act as a deterrent, as on many other routes.
Q16. Will CAST.IRON contribute towards the funding of the station?
Unlike CAST.IRON's initial proposal to reopen the St. Ives line, it does not intend to fully fund the station and the reopened branch line. However, CAST.IRON is willing to work with other stakeholders to identify sources of funding it believes businesses would be willing to invest in their station. CAST.IRON would be willing to make a financial contribution if it received a share of income to provide a return on its investment.
Q17. Is there a possibility that the railway line would be extended further westwards?
Whilst CAST.IRON still believes that there is a strong case for a railway to St. Ives, it is only promoting Milton Road station at this time.
The guided busway has been built on the St. Ives railway line west of Milton Road. In the short-term the busway must be given the chance to show that it can become a success. Whilst it may be a permanent feature, its life could be short because of: a) lack of patronage; b) withdrawal of services by bus operators; c) unacceptable cost of on-going revenue support; d) expensive infrastructure renewals; or e) one or more serious accidents.
If the busway did close then the railway could be reinstated. However, CAST.IRON considers it more likely that, given the £161m investment in the busway, it would remain open but be slimmed down, perhaps to just one track (operating in a single tidal flow direction). This could give an opportunity to build a railway line on the other half of the trackbed.