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Mayor’s ‘breakthrough’ Network Rail partnership speeds Wisbech-Cambridge rail service further down the track

A new ‘breakthrough’ partnership between Cambridgeshire Mayor James Palmer and Network Rail could help speed up the reopening of the Wisbech rail link.

Mayor Palmer, has secured the 'powerful' partnership with Network Rail which can push Wisbech rail plans forward in tandem with work to free up the Ely rail bottleneck.

Wednesday's (10) transport and infrastructure committee of the Combined Authority will hear how Mayor Palmer’s meetings with the rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris 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.

The disused rail tracks - photo Richard Humphrey. (44850422)
The disused rail tracks - photo Richard Humphrey. (44850422)

The partnership with Network Rail means Mayor Palmer’s plans to bring rail services back to the ‘Capital of the Fens’ can be part of a joined-up operation that frees up Ely bottleneck and get trains running between March and Wisbech, and then between Wisbech and Cambridge.

Mayor Palmer said: “Connecting Wisbech and unblocking Ely will get the whole of Cambridgeshire moving and also the wider East Anglia region. I’ve highlighted the importance to the Minister and we’ve successfully 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, and 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.”

Mayor James Palmer (44850432)
Mayor James Palmer (44850432)

The Mayor will now ask Transport and Infrastructure Committee members 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 initial service between Wisbech and March - already envisaged in the Wisbech Rail business case – would swiftly be followed by direct Wisbech-Cambridge services, once improvements in network capacity at Ely North Junction allow for them.

The Combined Authority – until now unsupported in its objective to get Wisbech reconnected to the rail network – will have Network Rail at its side throughout 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.

Rich in potential, the historic market town of Wisbech is one of the largest communities in England that is not linked to the main rail network. Improving connectivity to Cambridge will transform Wisbech as a magnet for investment, providing access to hugely broadened services and employment opportunities for its residents.

Initial work to review all documentation, options assessment and provide a programme and cost estimate for the next stage of work will take around 7 months with a budget estimate of £300,000.

The outcome of this work will be reported at the November Transport and Infrastructure Committee and Combined Authority Board.

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