New studies offer fresh hope for re-opening Wisbech to March rail line with cost now estimated at up to £110million

MP Steve Barclay with a letter from Eric Pickles last year that offered encouragement for the rail l

MP Steve Barclay with a letter from Eric Pickles last year that offered encouragement for the rail lik - Credit: Archant

Re-opening of the Wisbech to March rail line could cost from £70million to £110million says a new report out today which strengthens the case for the project.

The rail line has passed its latest hurdle, with an outline business case and feasibility study paving the way for the next stage.

Today’s publication by Cambridgeshire County Council of the latest studies was welcomed by MP Steve Barclay who described the outcome as “overall very positive”.

It means the council can now unlock further funding – possibly in the region of £400,000-to advance to the next phase. The money is within a £10.7 million ‘pot’ awarded to the local enterprise partnership last year to improve transport links with Wisbech.

Mr Barclay, the MP for NE Cambs, said the latest findings shows the business case “represents high value for money”. He said the study passed the test set by the Government to show the economic benefits of re-opening the rail line.


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Those benefits increase dramatically if, as Mr Barclay hopes, two trains per hour from Wisbech form part of the final package.

He remains optimistic the line could still re-open by 2020 but appreciates there is a long way to go. “All I can do is to help get it to the next stage – which is what I have been doing throughout”, he said.

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Current investigations into the case for reopening the railway from Wisbech began in 2012.

A county council spokesman said that today’s reports “demonstrate a positive case for investment at this stage of the scheme development

For a preferred option of two trains an hour from Wisbech to Cambridge, the outline business case and Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) documents show a benefit to cost ratio of 2.27 to 1, representing high value for money. When wider economic benefits are taken into account, the benefit to cost ratio could rise to around 4.41.

The spokesman said: “However, without additional work in the Ely area, it is unlikely that this service pattern could be achieved.

“A fallback option of one train an hour to Cambridge and one train an hour to March would be possible without further work at Ely. This option has a benefit to cost ration of 1.37 to 1 (representing low value for money), rising to 3.37 to 1 when wider economic benefits are taken into account. “

The council said current figures assume a town centre station for Wisbech.

However the studies also factor in the possibility of a new station south of the A47. This would remove the need for a bridge for the A47 over the railway but the study says a town centre station would “provide a greater level of wider economic benefits for Wisbech.”

GRIP is Network Rail’s management and control process for delivering projects on the railway, and has eight stages.

The GRIP 2 study looks at potential scheme costs in some detail.

The spokesman said that “including risk and optimism bias -a factor allowing for an inherent tendency for scheme costs to be underestimated at early stages of development-, the cost of reopening the line between March and Wisbech is estimated to range between £70m and £111m.”

“The costings from the GRIP 2 study informed the outline business case.”

The next stage of the project is for a GRIP 3 option selection study and a full business case for the scheme to be developed. This work is currently planned to being in the autumn.

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