Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Councillors meet Network Rail

Last night at a well attended meeting, three Network Rail representatives (covering commercial development and project management) talked to Councillors and Council officers about their plans for Cambridge Station.

The good news is that Network rail (or rather the government via network rail) is investing £17m in a new Island platform for Cambridge station - the main motivation being to support 12 carriage trains to help relieve overcrowding on the routes to London.

The main elements of the plan are to remove two of the underused lines at the station and to create a new island platform, approx 250m long and 9m wide in their place, with a track and platform on either side (to be called platforms 7 and 8). They are also planning a new footbridge to the island, from just north of the current station building (this seems to be the only place they can make it work). As well as supporting longer trains, the new platform will reduce problems with manoevering trains around the station, so could support more frequent services in future.

The plans could move forward quite quickly - Network Rail intend to seek planning permission next month - they don't usually need permission to develop on railway land, but do in this case as the station is a listed building. Construction would take 5-6 months next year - with small numbers of closures to the line hopefully coinciding with other engineering works. The new platform is planned to open on 12th December 2011, to coincide with the new winter timetable.

Less good news is that Network Rail really don't seem to understand just how many cycles use Cambridge station. We are in a unique situation nationally in terms of the high levels of cycle usage in the city, and failure to support journeys involving cycling and rail adequately (through lack of cycle parking and lack of support for bikes on trains) is holding back further takeup of cycling. If Network Rail doesn't get this right and lots of people go back to using their cars to get to the station, all commuters would suffer from increased congestion and longer journey times around the city.

Network Rail admitted they were using standard models for passenger movements through the station (to identify where the 'pinch points' like the booking office will be as passenger numbers increase), without taking specific account of the high levels of bike movements at Cambridge station. Their proposed footbridge is also a standard modular design that would require bikes to be carried up steps or put into small lifts. Along with other Councillors, I made the point that the new footbridge would need to be designed specifically to cope with high volumes of bikes and make it easy for people to cross the line with their bike. They have promised to let us have more details about their modelling of passenger movements for use of the new platform, and will have been left in no doubt that they need to rethink the footbridge. Councillors also urged Network Rail to work on this issue with Cambridge Cycling Campaign. It would be interesting to know how stations in places like Holland are setup to support cyclists...

Another topic of discussion was how a new entrance to the station could be created from the Coleridge side of the station. I support access to the station from this part of Coleridge, as long as it is mainly for pedestrians and cyclists - it would clearly need to be accompanied by some measures to stop commuter parking.

The area of land east of station is currently underused - mostly for the train washer, and the rail authorities are working on a longer term plan to redevelop this area all the way up to Mill Road. I would like to see a new Eastern access earlier than waiting for complete redevelopment of the area, but there are two problems - getting across the line next to the new platform 8, and the train washer (which apparently could cost over £1m to move elsewhere!). Hopefully network rail are going to think about possible solutions to this.

Finally, Coleridge Conservatives have been calling for much better communication from Network Rail about their plans for some time - it has taken a long time from when I first started asking Network Rail for a meeting for this meeting to be setup. I hope that in future they can be much more proactive in engaging both with locally elected representatives and the wider public about their plans to develop the railway network in Cambridge. I would like to see a new station at Chesterton, and the Chisholm Trail cycle route taken forwards. If the local Councils could find a way to raise funding for projects such as these (perhaps from existing developer contributions for transport), combined with funding from other sources, e.g. the government or train operating companies, these projects could happen earlier and issues like cycling facilities considered much earlier in the design process - all of this will require better channels of communication between all relevant groups, so hopefully yesterdays meeting was just the beginning.

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