Letters: Network Rail advocate six track option for EWR through Bedford

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BFARe is a campaign group that believes East West Rail’s 2019 public consultation was flawed and the resulting preferred route is not the best East-West/Oxford to Cambridge rail route for Bedford.

Dear editor,

Network Rail (NR) has released their Strategy Statement regarding East West Main Line (a.k.a. East West Rail) in advance of the remodelled business case review for the Department for Transport. This was published in March 2022 – so its analysis is up to date.

In the interests of balance, it should be noted that this is not a plan – it is NR’s opinion on what EWR ‘should’ do in order to enhance (or at the very least not negatively impact) NR’s existing railway services.

It could be said to be a political document where NR positioned the deficiencies within EWR and its process – however, the potential impact on NR’s network is massive, so they must cover themselves.

The full document can be found buried in Network Rail documents here.

The lowlights for Bedford are:

  • Network Rail states (pages 58-59) that the current railway through Bedford is “formally declared as congested infrastructure” and that their priority for the MML line is “protecting and improving the performance of the existing network”.

They go on to state that an “industry acceptable EWR scope at Bedford will provide segregated lines to the east of the station diverging from MML to the north and have a nil or net positive impact on the performance capacity of the existing MML”. It is also mentioned at the bottom of Page 20.

Roughly translated, this means they need extra tracks for EWR: i.e The six-track option. It means the potential demolition of homes in Poets and Ashburnham Road and massive remodelling around the station including the widening of Bromham Road bridge and moving the actual station.

Midland Main Line has been classified as congested since 2014. Network Rail first knew the six track option and its implication was on the table back in October 2018. EWR knew of it in January 2019. But this information was not made public during the route consultation in January – March 2019.

Bedford Borough knew in July 2019 of this possibility but chose to put their trust in SLC Rail consultants and not be open and transparent with residents. Impacted residents were denied access to this knowledge at the point where they could object to the route.

  • Network Rail is advocating that EWR build and plan for a huge increase in freight traffic. They are suggesting that the route can be used to support freight for both Felixstowe and Southampton (page 46). In order to underpin the predicted 74% growth in freight trains by 2043. NR propose that EWR should that the railway should “not preclude exploration of new national routing options for freight that could accommodate anticipated growth, serve existing or new distribution hubs, and improve freight access from major ports to the rest of the nation.”

Freight is a subject that has been, even in the face of common sense and numerous indicating factors, tremendously downplayed by EWR, Cllr Headley and the Bedford self-declared Rail experts during the consultation processes.

  • Network Rail confirms that EWR is not currently planned to be electrified. See Page 21: “At present, East West Rail infrastructure is not planned to be electrified. Changes to scope will need to be considered if fully electrified routes using the new infrastructure are required.”. It is commonly accepted that electrification would be a good idea. But, contrary to Cllr Headley’s statement of “Diesel is not an objective of EWR” in the February Full Council Meeting, EWR currently has no choice other than Diesel traction for both passenger and freight, whether it is an objective or not.

Bedford’s Air Quality is already poor. It consistently falls below the World Health Organisations’ safety thresholds. Diesel trains can only make that worse – never better.

  • Network Rail states that Bedford has already been identified as requiring additional Depots (Page 59) – Where exactly these will go, how they will be provided with access and services and what disruption they will cause is not clear. NR advocates the industry produce a holistic strategic plan for the area – it doesn’t seem to mention working with the local residents or council.
  • The Journey Time Analysis case study for Bedford (Pages 44 & 45) concludes that EWR’s journey time to/from Bedford is uncompetitive in comparison to car journeys.

This is not a good business case for a passenger railway. Most journeys are heavily in the red. Even the positive journey time gain to Cambridge is only 12 minutes – but this is before the A428 road improvements have been considered.

In total, only 3 journeys show a journey time improvement versus road (one of those is Luton – which is on the MML anyway) whereas 12 show the road routes to be more competitive. This journey time deficit could be enormously improved by having a shorter route with the station south of Bedford without the complications of coming through Bedford.

Network Rail knows their stuff about railways. EWR know their stuff about railways. What do Bedford Borough know about railways? One of two things has happened here to Cllr Headley and the Mayor, either;

  1. They think that the destruction of homes, the years of massive disruption in the town, the environmental destruction, the air quality and associated health issues, and the huge cost to the taxpayer are a price worth paying to have the railway come through the town,
  2. Or they did not understand enough about the implications of supporting a route through Bedford and didn’t have the wherewithal to accurately qualify with EWR what the consequences would be.

Either way, the consequences of that unilateral local decision (made without full council debate or vote) to support this route won’t be suffered by them, they will be endured (sic) by their residents.

It is about time they started to listen to all those residents and challenge EWR, rather than defend EWR, It is time they revoked their support for Route E.


Mike Barlow
Bedford for a Re-consultation (BFARe)

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