Transport committee members hail Network Rail partnership to bring Wisbech-Cambridge rail nearer.
James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, has secured a powerful new partnership with Network Rail which can push Wisbech rail plans forward on the back of work to free up the Ely rail bottleneck.
Steve Barclay, Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire and Mayor Palmer have led the campaign to bring the railway back to Wisbech, including many meetings with rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris.
Today’s Combined Authority Transport & Infrastructure Committee heard how those meetings have paid off, with the minister undertaking to consider funding the Combined Authority’s plans to restore Wisbech Rail as soon as work currently in hand to improve train services through Ely has been completed.
Partnership with Network Rail means the plans to restore rail services for the ‘Capital of the Fens’ promoted by Mayor Palmer and Mr Barclay can be part of a joined-up operation that could free up Ely bottleneck and then get trains running firstly between March and Wisbech, and then between Wisbech and Cambridge.
Members unanimously agreed to recommend the drawdown of £300,000 capital funding from the Combined Authority’s Medium-Term Financial Plan to enable the next steps towards realising Wisbech Rail.
The Combined Authority will work closely with Network Rail during the next phase of work to get Wisbech back on track.
Mayor Palmer’s integrated approach means the Wisbech Rail business case will be developed in accordance with Network Rail’s new project management style, building on work already delivered by the Combined Authority, assessing options for the Wisbech to March line, and finding significant cost savings.
Fenland District Councillor Chris Seaton said:
“I’m extremely encouraged to see that we have Network Rail getting involved in something that the Combined Authority has been solely pushing in the past. We all know that Ely North is the pinchpoint and really needs to be sorted so that the rest of the system can operate in a proper way. I’m fully behind this, I hope it receives support from Members and I’d be happy to propose this.
“I’d like to thank you Mr Mayor for all the work you have put in to Wisbech Rail and the officers for the amount of time and work they’ve put into it, the investment into Fenland, into the various areas is so welcome and so much needed, so thank you all for your support.”
James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough:
“Connecting Wisbech and unblocking Ely will get the whole of Cambridgeshire moving and the wider East Anglia region. We’ve demonstrated the good value and good sense of taking forward these plans in a considered, joined-up way where projects dovetail and methods of working are time-efficient and cost effective.
“This breakthrough partnership with Network Rail puts us inside the team, the idea being everything can be aligned and streamlined, with no waste of resources, no doubling up, and no unnecessary delays to getting these projects working for people who’ve quite frankly waited long enough.”
The historic market town of Wisbech is one of the biggest settlements in England with no link to the main rail network. Improving connectivity to Cambridge will transform Wisbech as an investment opportunity, opening up services and a wider field of jobs for its residents.
Initial work to review all documentation, options assessment and provide a programme and cost estimate for the next stage of work would take around 7 months with a budget estimate of £300,000.
The outcome of this work, if given the go-ahead, will be reported at the November Transport and Infrastructure Committee and Combined Authority Board.
Leading the Wisbech Rail Reopening Campaign