Letters: “How your views have already shaped East West Rail”

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Beth West
Beth West, CEO at East West Rail Company

Dear Editor

Over the past two months, we’ve hosted a series of public drop-in events about the updated proposals for East West Rail (EWR). These 12 events were held across the route of the Project and were well attended – our first event in Bedford was the most popular, attracting nearly 450 people.

Some 90 members of our team attended these events, which provided more than 70 hours for people to find out more about this new transport connection, and speak to experts from across the business, asking questions about any aspect of the project.

I’m particularly grateful to local media (including your website), campaigners and elected representatives for helping encourage people to attend events.

How your views have already shaped East West Rail

Improving design through local engagement is a passion of mine, and one shared by the EWR team. The views of people living and working in the communities East West Rail will serve are fundamental to the way this new rail connection will be designed, built, and operated, and have already helped improve and modify our proposals.

For example, feedback from the 2021 consultation was used together with our analyses to update our original preference and provide a new station at Tempsford, opening up new opportunities for economic growth where EWR meets the London-Edinburgh East Coast Main Line.

It also led us to review the design, and we’re looking to remove completely or reduce the height of approximately half of the embankments or viaducts (by length) compared to the drawings published in 2021.

What people in Bedford are asking

People had a lot of questions for the team and me in Bedford, but I appreciate that not everyone was able to attend. We posted a video on our website, and here are answers to our most frequently asked questions:

How will Bedford benefit from East West Rail?

  • A brand-new station at Bedford St Johns: the hospital is currently badly served with public transport – a new station will be closer to the hospital and provide connections with existing bus routes all within walking distance of the town centre.
  • A major upgrade to Bedford station: having suffered from decades of underfunding, the upgrades will create a more usable and welcoming environment, with a new entrance and public plaza, creating a much better link between the station and the town centre. 
  • Faster, reliable journey times to enjoy days out, travel to jobs, or link with education across the region: Bedfordians could travel to Oxford in one hour, Cambridge in 35 minutes, and take any number of reliable, sustainable, and fast journeys in between – whether that’s a daily commute or a one-off trip.
  • Taking pressure off local roads: EWR will take cars off local roads, as people make the switch to rail – so even if you prefer to drive, EWR will reduce congestion and carbon emissions, resulting in cleaner air and safer roads.
  • Easy connections across the country: with one simple change at an EWR station, Bedfordians could travel to destinations such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, the Lake District, York and Edinburgh, without having to struggle across London, opening opportunities for holidays, business trips, or visiting family.
  • A usable service between Bletchley and Bedford: this section is currently still operated by a rail replacement bus, as the Marston Vale Line has been unable to run services for some time. EWR will once again link Bedford to its neighbours by reliable, regular rail services – three times as many, as previously ran.

    Overall, the railway is good news for people living and working in Bedford. But we recognise that some people are particularly affected by our plans – and we’ve worked hard to try to reduce the impact on those residents and businesses.

Your route serving Bedford town centre will be disruptive as it involves building two extra tracks north of Bedford station which will impact some residents. Have you looked at bypassing central Bedford to the south?

Following consultation feedback in 2021, we carefully considered whether routing the railway to the south of Bedford might be a better option than going through Bedford station.

We looked at two specific potential routes, but both:

  1. have significant environmental impacts and cause loss of open public space in Priory Country Park and
  2. miss the important benefit of connecting with Bedford town centre and interchanging with Thameslink or East Midlands Railway services.

Will some people in the Poets area of Bedford lose their homes?

We fully understand and are extremely conscious that some residents are particularly affected by the new tracks that will be needed. Your feedback in 2021 about the impact of the railway north of Bedford led us to really challenge our thinking and design, which helped us identify the opportunity to significantly reduce the number of directly affected homes in the Poets area of Bedford from 98 to 66.

We actively encourage this feedback and your views will be listened to.

The team is determined to minimise negative impact for people who could be affected and has launched a scheme which means local homeowners who need to sell their property but can’t, can be compensated to the unaffected market value.

The current train tracks around Bedford are one of only a handful of places in the country designated as ‘congested infrastructure’ even before EWR arrives, so having looked at every option in detail, there is no viable alternative to putting in additional track alongside the existing Midland Main Line.

More information about what we considered can be seen in our animation here.

The maps published in May aren’t detailed enough – can you give us more?

Yes. We’re always keen to hear from our neighbours along the route and will always strive to do what we can to help. We had requests for more detail on the background of our maps, so by the event at Bedford Heights, we had created – and were handing out – new maps with extra detail, which are available on our website here.

Community events are a great opportunity to come and ask the team anything you want – and more will be held in future and as part of the statutory public consultation, which we expect to take place in the first half of 2024.

But I’m also very aware that not everyone will be able to get to events in person, so I want to reassure the community that our door is always open and there are lots of other ways to find out more about the Project – through our website, email, post, phone, or through our videos and factsheets.

Yours sincerely,

Beth West
CEO, East West Railway Company

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