An Open Letter to Mayor James Palmer

Haverhill to Cambridge – Metro Connection


Dated 12 December 2019, Rail Haverhill – in collaboration with its campaign partners – sent the following to Mayor James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The Rail Haverhill Group is encouraged to see progress being made with plans for improved transport facilities in the city of Cambridge and the surrounding urban areas together with regional extensions to Haverhill, Mildenhall, etc.

The recent Greater Cambridge Partnership Public Consultation presentation on ‘Cambridge South East Transport’ proposals was attended by Rail Haverhill members and discussed in detail at our most recent meeting.

Continued inclusion of a reinstated public transport link from Haverhill to Cambridge is welcomed. This is particularly important to residents, who now and in the future make an important contribution to Cambridge and its economic growth. Haverhill itself continues to grow strongly, and this is placing increasing pressure on the existing road network and particularly on the A1307.

Our group strongly supports the CPCA objective of delivering a first class integrated transport network, segregated from public roads, based on proven technology and operational experience. However, drawing on the information we have seen published, particularly the recent Steer Report dated 17 June 2019 entitled ‘The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Transport Plan’, we are concerned that the vehicle system currently proposed for delivery of CAM fails to meet these criteria, since it has not to our knowledge been proven and delivered anywhere in the world for a metro of the size being considered for Cambridgeshire. Nor is there an existing operational system in the UK.

We are very concerned that an unproven system poses numerous safety, technical and regulatory hurdles, which may place the delivery of the much-needed metro at risk. Such risks we believe are unnecessary, since the Strategic Outline Business Case for CAM showed that a Light Rail system using proven technology could be delivered for a comparable cost to that of a Battery powered Rubber Tyre Bus. We strongly support a Light Rail system that is scalable, sustainable and economically feasible versus other unproven technologies; the former being a system strongly supported by the numerous examples in operation throughout the UK and elsewhere in the world.

We recall your discussions with Matt Hancock MP and local and regional Councillors held at Portcullis House in 2017, when that meeting endorsed Light Rail as the technology appropriate to deliver the metro and through this support regional economic growth, while meeting environmental and social objectives. We recall that you were elected on the basis of this vision for the metro.​

Moreover, the Portcullis House meeting appeared to recognise the important role that Haverhill plays in supporting the success of the Cambridgeshire economy, and the consequent need to work across political boundaries. Currently we have received close on 5000 signatures supporting a Light Rail link between Haverhill and Cambridge.

Reading the recent Steer Report, there is only a passing mention of the extended link to Haverhill under the heading of ‘Wider Regional Objectives’ and a time scale appeared to be absent.

We at ‘Rail Haverhill’ are very concerned that this vision for the CAM System may have been diverted off-track and we strongly urge you to return to the proven and most sustainable solution of Light Rail for Metro delivery over the whole network.

We recognise that in order to deliver an integrated Metro solution that provides seamless operation from Haverhill to the centre of Cambridge and beyond, a common mode of travel needs to be adopted throughout. We are therefore extremely concerned that the Cambridge South East Transport proposal from the GCP, which we assume is supported by the CPCA, is based on a Battery Powered Rubber Tyre Bus style vehicle, running on an unguided roadway.

As such, this seriously threatens viable delivery of a Light Rail solution to Haverhill, since once a bus-based solution is accepted for the initial section, it will become much more difficult (and perhaps impossible) to deliver an integrated rail-based network for the entire Metro. In our view this is short-sighted and it would be much preferable to deliver a Light Rail solution now on this initial stage.

In effect, a bus-based section would be dictating the de facto technology for the whole Metro. In our view, that approach to decision-making is the wrong way around. In contrast, the technology adopted for the whole Metro system should dictate the technology that is implemented in the section from the Bio-medical Centre to Granta Park. It would be grossly inefficient and perhaps economically prohibitive to change the technology at a later date. In view of imminent decisions to be taken, we see this is an urgent matter for your attention as Mayor.

We understand that a full and comprehensive cost and risk comparison between a Light Rail option and the Bus option has not yet been carried out. This must now be given the highest priority in order to avoid a politically controversial and costly outcome in the future caused by a hasty and inappropriate selection of technology for the Metro, in particular pre-determined by a preference being taken in one particular section.

Recent Technical Notes by WSP and Mott MacDonald concluded, using only the Bus option, that reuse of the final section of the old track bed would not be practical and hence the need to divert to the north over the virgin ground of the Gog Magog landscape. A study using the Light Rail option was not undertaken and therefore should be done so as another matter of urgency in our opinion.

Considering only the rail aspect then the questions to be answered are as follows:-

  1. Is it technically possible to install a Light Rail bi-directional system on the original track bed route.
  2. If yes, then what would be the cost.​

The ‘Rail Haverhill’ Group and the Town’s residents now look forward to your reply and continued support.

We are always available to discuss our thoughts in detail so please do not hesitate to ask.

As of today, 24 December 2019, the Group are still yet to receive a response from Major James Palmer or a representative. A printed news article will follow.

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