Bedford Tory councillors in row over “freight doom” of East West Rail route

East West Rail Route E
Route E has been selected as the 'preferred' route for the Oxford to Cambridge line through Bedford Borough.

Tory borough councillors have spoken out AGAINST the proposed route for the East West Rail link being opened up between Bedford and Cambridge.

One spoke of Bedford being “doomed” to suffering freight trains at night while another denied claims that the Conservatives had supported a northern route between the town and Cambridge.

East West Rail announced its preferred route in March 2020 but at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, a village representative queried consultation over the route.

Read: Political leaders agree – “East West rail must go through Midland Road Station”

The line would exit the town between Bedford and Clapham, before heading east towards Ravensden and onwards towards the Tempsford, Roxton and Wyboston area.

Cllr Tom Wootton (Cons, Wyboston) asked if it was the council’s policy to encourage the route to come through the middle of Bedford, via Midland Station. Mayor Dave Hodgson confirmed.

Cllr Michael Headley (Lib Dem, Putnoe), a borough representative on the rail consortium, said it had been the “long standing position of the council, with cross party support, for East West Rail to serve Bedford Midland Station.”

He then reeled off a series of policies going back as far as 2011 when this has been the case.

“Many of which have been out for extensive public consultation through the local plan process,” he said.

“To bypass Bedford would lose a lot of the economic benefits that would otherwise flow in our direction,” said Cllr Headley.

But Cllr Wootton said he “disputed the benefits to the town of having the line come through Bedford.”

He added: “Nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room, which is freight. It’s going to be built for freight from the east coast.

“What the mayor’s decision actually has done is doom Bedford to be a rail hub in the evening and at night. We’re going to have heavy freight trains running all night and through all these northern villages.”

But the mayor hit back by saying that it was a “worrying statement” for a representative of the villages to make and admit he had not seen the documents or read them.

Cllr Headley, who represents the borough on the project board, said: “I’m shocked that you’ve suddenly discovered that freight trains use railway lines as well as passenger trains.

“They already use the existing line through Bedford.”

He added that the plan is for a fast passenger railway between Oxford and Cambridge, serving Bedford, which would bring “huge benefits” to the borough.

“I’m actually flabbergasted by the conversation that we are hearing tonight,” he added.

“This is the first time I’ve heard any Conservative councillors on this council argue that there is some problem with the East West railway line coming through Bedford.”

Cllr Alison Foster (Cons, Harrold) said: “He is absolutely incorrect – all Conservative councillors did not support a route coming into Bedford town.

“As far as I am aware the majority of Conservative councillors supported the route south of Bedford.”

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter

Edited 11:56 on 09.02.21 to include the words ‘the proposed route’ into the opening sentence.