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Railwatch 081 - October 1999

Recycle those old railways

Reopening campaign takes to the roads

This was the moment when cyclists and rail supporters met at the overgrown and disused station of Histon before taking to the roads to highlight the need to reopen the railway.

In any sensible world, trains would be running again between Cambridge and St Ives but even though the tracks are still in place, planners, politicians and big business are trying every trick in the book to stop the trains running again even though people want them.

There have been hare-brained proposals to convert this functioning railway into a busway, a toll road, a cycleway and a footpath. Yet its real future must be as a functioning railway, extending to Huntingdon to link up with the East Coast main line and the proposed East-West rail link.

To highlight its potential, cyclists (including three children, the youngest aged five) cycled from various starting points to ride the 28 miles to St Ives (now in Huntingdonshire again) and back.

RDS members know - but do those in authority? - that more roads would not in the long run improve the major congestion along the route but restoration of the railway (supported by residents of St lves and villages along the route) would. Between them the cyclists covered over 600 miles and raised a good sum for the reopening campaign (masterminded by the East Anglian Branch), as well as for other RDS causes and several charities.

The saga so far: The Huntingdon-St Ives section closed to passengers around 1959. March-St Ives closed to passengers around 1962. Cambridge-St Ives closed to passengers in 1972.

Between 1972 and 1975 South Cambridgeshire district council and the county council agreed to pay for the reinstatement of the service between Cambridge and St Ives but the decision was reversed at the last minute because of an internal wrangle at the county council. In 1975 RDS began its campaign to have the line reopened. (Cambridge to St Ives remained in use for freight).

RDS prepared leaflets, organised petitions, and began lobbying politicians at local and national level. In the 1980s it also ran special passenger trains along the route to Lowestoft and London. These were heavily patronised by local people. Early 1990s saw two further Saturdays with trains being run between Cambridge and St Ives carrying some 2000 local people. There was clearly strong public support for the reopening.

Break-up of the railway system with privatistion, track access charges, as well as deterioration of the track has made it impossible to run special trains. Currently the track remains between Cambridge and a point close to the site of St Ives station but no longer carries freight.

1995 saw a public meeting in St Ives attended by support for the reinstatement of heavy rail but also a significant number calling for its conversion into a light rail route.

The county council commissioned reports which considered the scheme viable. Estimates of likely usage and of running cost (and hence of financial viability) varied enormously.

RDS printed leaflets which were distributed to all local politicians.

In 1999 RDS re-launched the project under the name Cromwell Line Campaign to include reopening, with re-laying of track to Huntingdon. This would form a strategic route linking Cambridge (and hence other stations on the King's Lynn route) to the East Coast main line. It would have potential to form part of an East-West route avoiding London, the desirability of which is now widely accepted. From a local view, it could be the answer to the congestion on the A14 which is causing serious concern, at far less cost than more road-building.

In recent years opposition to the plan has been fuelled by business interests who would prefer a guided busway along the route. Past experience shows that car users do not transfer to bus but do to a satifactory rail service. Hence the guided bus route is unlikely to attract many more users than the existing bus service using the A14. The controversy has however delayed any final decision.

Contact: Peter Wakefield, 43 High Street, Oakington, CB4 5AG, chairman of the Cromwell Line Campaign.

Danger roads

Clara Zilahi was shocked at the difficulty of finding a safe route even along country lanes. "It was a nightmare on some of the roads," she said. "The horror of the road route forms a powerful argument in favour of restoring the railway. Huntingdon station is not signposetd from the town or the main roads but at least some residents knew how to find it! Forty years ago it was a small country town. Now it is a major conurbation. It deserves a rail link to Cambridge."

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