I’ve just been writing about the East West Rail project for the German rail magazine Eisenbahnkurier. This large project includes the reinstatement of the Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge closed in 1967 despite not being included in Dr. Beeching’s infamous hit list. Even at the time this looked a poor decision. This was a line of clear strategic significance crossing four on the main routes between London and the Midlands and North, the old GWR London to Birmingham route at Bicester, the West Coast Main Line at Bletchley , the Midland Main Line at Bedford and the East Coast Main Line at Sandy. At both Bletchley and Sandy millions had been spent in the early 1960s on the building of flyovers to facilitate traffic on the Varsity Line. This was money thrown away when the line was closed.
The damage is now being rectified and the green light has been given to the reinstatement and electrification of the line between Oxford and Bedford. But what of Bedford to Cambridge? This section closed completely in 1967 and was lifted soon afterwards. There have been a number of encroachments on the track bed, all of recent origin. The most barmy of all, however, is the conversion of a mile or so on the outskirts of Cambridge into a guided busway. This threatens to frustrate the achievement of a transport infrastructure project of national importance. Cambridgeshire County Council has form in this area, having destroyed an intact railway from Cambridge to St. Ives to create a nineteen mile long busway that does nothing to relieve congestion in Cambridge on the grounds that it relieves congestion on the A14 which a restored passenger railway would also have done. The project came in at over three times the budget and significantly late. Value for money it was not.
The malaise has, sadly, spread and the last government gave the go ahead for a railway between Luton and Dunstable to be destroyed in the same way. In an era of successful railway reopenings reversing the errors of Beeching, (Cardiff-Ebbw Vale, Edinburgh to Glasgow via Airdrie to name but two) Cambridgeshire are way out of step. In the interest of rational transport policy planning they need to be stopped before they do any more damage. But who will do this?