Letters: Where have all Bedford’s rail experts come from?

2220

Dear editor,

Bedford seems to be embarrassed by a sudden glut of self-certified rail experts of which I am sure East West Rail company must be jealous.

Paradoxically, these rail enthusiasts seem to be extolling the virtues of EWR, whilst at the same time pointing out that their army of highly paid consultants don’t seem to know what they are doing.

They accuse people of spreading misinformation.

Below are a few facts that EWR themselves do not dispute (references available):

Freight

  1. EWR states there will be up to 48 freight paths per day available on the line.
  2. EWR states they do not know what the demand for freight will be, but they do anticipate it will grow.
  3. EWR state that there will need to be further developed to establish freight onto the line – and this is something they would like to see.
  4. England Economic Heartland (Mayor Dave is on the board and chair of the Transport Forum) and East West Main Line Partnership (Cllr Headley is on the board) has been actively promoting EWR for freight use including to the likes of Felixstowe port.
  5. Covanta has expressed a desire to use EWR to bring freight to their waste processing facility at Stewartby.

Diesel

  1. EWR state that the current plan is that EWR will be Diesel on Day 1 unless additional government funding is made available to make it electric. They have repeatedly asked for confirmation, but it has not yet been approved.
  2. Will Gallagher (EWR Strategy director) stated that it is “highly unlikely” that hydrogen trains will be used on the route.

Environment

  1. EWR admit they performed no relative carbon efficiency calculations at route selection stage. They cannot categorically state which of the routes has the lowest carbon impact.
  2. They have selected Route E that is longer, more circuitous and hillier than other routes – all these things have a negative bearing on carbon efficiency.

Business Case

  1. Construction Stage 3 (Bedford to Cambridge) has not been approved by Treasury yet.
  2. In 2020 the standard model the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) was 0.64 – a number less than 1 means the costs were higher than the benefits.
  3. Using the National Infrastructure Commission transformation growth model the BCR in 2020 was 1.3 – using this model Treasury expects a BCR of 2 or greater. (this model relies on things like housing development to make it work)
  4. Since those costs were calculated prices of raw materials have risen sharply – meaning the cost side of the ratio has worsened.
  5. Since these costs were calculated the passenger demand has fallen due to COVID and is not expected to return for many years.
  6. Originally the EWR objective was to drive increased passenger connectivity. It has now changed to driving OX-Cam Arc development.
  7. The predicted capacity

EWR Backchecking

  1. EWR consider the changes since the 2019 consultation do not warrant a back check of the route selection. Specifically; the potential loss of homes in Poets and elsewhere and the climate emergency are deemed insignificant in this regard.
  2. EWR have backchecked the route for Cambridge, but hasn’t for Bedford – the trigger for this was a change in costs.
  3. EWR have not revealed the full costs for Bedford to Cambridge in the 2021 consultation. They revealed costs for Section D (Clapham to the Eversdens), but not sections C (Bedford) or E and F (Eversdens to Cambridge).
  4. EWR has admitted they have these costs in an FOI request but refuse to release them to the public. This is currently in the FOI appeals with the Information Commissioners Office.

Consultation in 2019

  1. EWR sent 120,000 postcards in 2019 – there were 169,000 residences in the consultation area.
  2. According to the EWR postcode list, only 5% of homes in some of the impacted Parishes (Clapham, Roxton) were sent a postcard regarding the consultation. This means 95% were not contacted by EWR.
  3. Clapham, Ravensden and Wilden parishes were not included in the prescribed consultee list in 2019, despite them all being in the Route E corridor.
  4. EWR did not hold a single event in the Route E corridor during the 2019 consultation.
  5. EWR are still to clarify how the costs changed so radically in 2019 – an initial meeting has been held, but it did not provide the answers, so a second is scheduled.
  6. The public feedback for route selection was based on numerical tick boxes (but EWR didn’t contact many in the Northern parishes)

EWR Engagement with Bedford Borough Council

  1. Bedford Borough Council knew of the six-track option in July 2019 that put homes at risk and met with EWR to discuss this – they did not disclose this to the public.
  2. In 2021 Bedford Borough Council regurgitated an almost identical consultant (SLC) report that they gave to EWR in 2019. EWR saw it and still chose to pursue the six-track option in 2021 anyway.
  3. There were at least 8 meetings that we know of from FOI requests between Bedford Borough Council or their consultants and EWR during 2019-20 – these were not documented. No agendas, no minutes, no follow up action notes.
  4. Bedford Borough Council’s consultants (Kilborn) provided them with a report in February 2019 that stated they should respond to EWR by recommending looking into the Old Varsity route which they had surveyed and concluded there were “no insurmountable obstacles”.

Those are the facts. I know what I think, but people can make their own minds up about:

  • Whether EWR need freight traffic to make the business case work now costs have increased, and whether they will seek to maximise freight use?
  • Whether EWR need to use housing development to justify its business case?
  • Whether EWR will use Diesel trains and push freight and passenger traffic through town?
  • Whether EWR is paying lip service to carbon targets by trying to mitigate the selected route rather than select the most carbon-efficient route and perfect that?
  • Whether EWR have any regard for the residents of Bedford, their homes, health or well being?
  • Whether the new information on the homes at risk should be significant enough to trigger a back check of the route selection?
  • Whether the new information on the Climate Emergency should be significant enough to trigger a back check of the route selection?
  • Whether the directly impacted parishes were adequate consulted

Yours sincerely,

Mike Barlow
BFARe

Letters published reflect the views of the author, not Bedford Independent.
If you would like to write a letter to respond to any issues raised, please email letters@bedfordindependent.co.uk

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