Beds-Cambs rail route off-track for protecting key wildlife habitats

Photo by Becky Green.

The decision to take East West Rail to Cambourne reduces the risks of ecological damage, but a route to the north of the A428 offers enormous potential and should be properly investigated

The Department for Transport has announced that the section of East West Rail from Bedford to Cambridge will run through Cambourne, rather than Bassingbourn. However, they have not looked in detail at the option to take the line further north as it heads east to Cambridge, which could significantly reduce the risk to key wildlife sites.

The announcement on January 30 2020 helps reduce the risk to key ancient woodland sites both from damage from building the railway itself, and also from the inevitable increase in housing that will eventually follow the rail corridor. However, no decision has been made yet about whether the route will pass to the north of south of Roxton, leaving wildlife-rich woodlands and grasslands at risk until that section of the route has been finalised.

More worryingly, the Government continues to refuse to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the proposals, which would require them to consider alternative routes, such as a route north of the current A428, and take into account the ecological impacts of those alternatives.

The Government has also failed to commit to electrifying the route, leaving diesel trains as the only option for East West Rail. Electrification, which would be much easier to implement as the route is built, would allow energy to come from low-carbon sources in the future.

An alternative to EWR's five proposed routes has been put forward by the CamBedRailRoad group, taking a northern approach into Cambridge, which appears to be fast gaining local support.

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