Fight for Haverhill railway continues 50 years after closure – but what’s next for the campaign?

Residents in Haverhill are continuing their campaign for a new rail network, 50 years after the closure of the original line.

The Suffolk town which sits in a somewhat isolated position on the border with Cambridgeshire and Essex will have been without a railway link for 50 years on Monday (March 6), the original having closed on March 6, 1967 after more than 100 years in operation.

Campaign group Rail Haverhill are working in partnership with Cambridge Connect to reopen the rail network. Cambridge Connect has developed the idea of a light rail network which would connect Cambridge city centre and eventually extend to include regional commuter towns like Haverhill.

Heike Sowa, chairwoman of Rail Haverhill, said:

The location of Haverhill on the borders of different counties means it is quite isolated, which is why the railway would be so important.

 

More than 4,000 people have signed a petition to re-open a railway link between Haverhill and Cambridge.

Dr Colin Harris, founder of Cambridge Connect, said that the new proposals for a network of overground and underground light rail would solve the traffic problems in and around the city in the long term more efficiently than current city deal plans.

Ms Sowa said: “It would connect us with other rail stations, it would bring us quickly into Cambridge and it would relieve traffic on roads.

With this line built we would be connected easily to Stansted Airport, for example. It would be a significant improvement of our infrastructure.

 

Town councillor Tony Brown, who is also a member of Rail Haverhill, said one of the reasons the railway closure was so devastating was because of the use of Haverhill as a London overspill town and Cllr Brown believes the railway was shut just as it began to expand.

Cllr Brown said:

When the railway shut down in 1967 the population of Haverhill was roughly 8,000, the population now is 30,000. There are huge developments planned and along with projected population growth could see the number rise to 40,000 people but there is less transport than when we had 8,000.

 

The Cambridge City Deal recently published a report detailing its preferred options for changes to the A1307, currently the main commuter route in and out of Haverhill and the surrounding villages like Linton.

In the same report the City Deal reiterated that there would be no move to reopen or build a railway to Haverhill.

Last year City Deal board chair, Cllr Lewis Herbert said officers had looked at the possibility of reopening the railway however the cost of such improvements would be ‘greatly in excess’ of the current £39m budget. He added: “the benefits simply do not justify the huge costs.”

Ms Sowa said that the plans for the A1307 would not solve the transport problem for Haverhill.

In Linton the traffic is absolutely horrendous. The A1307 is really blocked in the morning and a new road is per square metre more expensive than a new railway.

 

She said people in Haverhill were aware that infrastructure needed to be improved but rather than just a road she said both a new road and a new railway would solve the infrastructure and congestion problems.

The proposals are mostly speculative at this point with Dr Harris estimating that specific technical and expert surveys needed to gauge viability for the plans will cost £500,000. Currently Cambridge Connect is still trying to get funding for the tests.

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