MP questions whether £395,000 March and Whittlesey rail studies will ever lead to the estimated £3.2million work being done

Manea rail station.

Manea rail station. - Credit: Archant

A £395,000 feasibility study to upgrade Manea and Whittlesey rail stations to take longer trains leaves a question mark over where the £3.4million will come from to carry out the works.

Whittlesey station

Whittlesey station - Credit: Archant

Papers released by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) point to likely sourcing from developer contributions through section 106 agreements (community benefit) funds held by Fenland Council.

The reports says other cash could come from the new Anglia franchise that runs the rail lines or even looking to the LEP Growing Places Fund for support.

But NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay said: “Are they seriously suggesting 106 funding will pay £3.9million? Otherwise it simply proves my point that it is a study where the construction work will never be delivered.”

Whatever is decided it will be a long way off as the improvements study – looking at upgrading platforms to take four car trains and making it easier for pedestrians to access the stations – is unlikely to produce its report and options selection until next March.

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LEP says the funding agreement signed with Fenland Council last August was for £395,000 to include a 10 per cent contingency and also to include Network Rail’s own contingency estimate.

“Work commissioned and under way,” LEP reported a year ago.

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Fenland Council describes the improvement scheme as a priority and LEP says the money for the current study was available after a competing bid for funds –Fletton Quays, Peterborough – was withdrawn.

“Feasibility work undertaken by Arup Consulting has identified options for improving the stations to accommodate three and four carriage operations (avoiding selective door opening)”.

It also includes better access and potential development within the wider area although it is conceded there’s less chance to do this at Manea.

If funding is in place to complete the project it would mean operators could work towards more frequent stops at both stations as longer trains could stop there more readily.

“The initial feasibility study work for Manea and Whittlesey has confirmed there are practical solutions to the platform lengthening at both and the bridge between the platforms at Whittlesey,” says the LEP report.

The recommendations are supported by Network Rail who have also been encouraged by the Government, says LEP, to look at development opportunities on their existing land holdings.

“Longer platforms present more opportunities for passenger trains to stop safely so the infrastructure will be no longer a barrier to improved services,” says LEP.

LEP noted that in 2014 following the introduction of a two hourly service the number of journeys undertaken rose from 3,000 a year to 11,000.

Mr Barclay has criticised the cost of the latest report claiming it is “the equivalent of paying a £30,000 a year rail consultant for 12 years to write reports on Fenland stations.

“Instead of much needed improvements to local stations, such as better parking at Manea and Whittlesey or adding in new lighting to make Whittlesey station safer during the dark winter months, the money is being entirely spent on consultancy fees without any actual work being carried out at any of the stations

A LEP spokesman said: “Railway projects have to progress through a very clear process, known as GRIP, before they can secure funding for improvement works, particularly if they are likely to secure major investment such as lengthening the platforms and the provision of a footbridge.

“Therefore, this funding is vital to secure the next phase of investment in station infrastructure.”

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