‘Light rail’ in the mix for Wisbech to March line

Dr Johnson Mayor

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson at the opening of Soham station last year. Will his enthusiasm for a 'light rail' option help restore a railway station at Wisbech? - Credit: Archant

A plan to introduce a ‘light rail’ option between Wisbech and March was outlined to Fenland councillors.  

It is the first time the issue has been discussed publicly since the election of Dr Nik Johnson to be mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA).  

Rowland Potter, head of transport at CAPCA said the main problem highlighted in studies of the proposal “is the interaction between rail and road at the many crossings, all of which are currently disused of course. 

“This is why we had been told in the past that we couldn’t re-open the crossings because of the many technical challenges involved.” 

He said CAPCA’s proposal, if given a next-stage go-ahead and if the land is available, would see a ‘heavy rail’ scheme with full-barriers at the crossings. 

This would run alongside “some form of ‘light rail’ with automated half-barrier crossings, as well as segregated cycle and pedestrian pathways included.” 

Mr Potter was addressing the overview and scrutiny committee of Fenland Council on Monday.  

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He said: “I really do appreciate the frustration councillors must be feeling, but the simple fact is that rail projects take time – full stop. 

“Certainly, reopening a rail scheme that is classed as ‘out-of-use’, as opposed to ‘disused’ creates greater challenges unfortunately.” 

He said the business case was strong, albeit there are elements in the project such as the road/rail solution via many crossings which cannot just simply be opened again as crossings. 

This would mean “a significant element” in the £230 million pound project estimate that relates to the problems around crossings. 

Mr Potter said a submission to the DfT ‘Restoring Railways Fund was unsuccessful as they were looking for “smaller-scale business-based innovative ideas. 

He said the costs involved was beyond the funding that the government had envisaged for the scheme at that time. 

Options could be presented to the people of Fenland later in the year. 

He said: “The scheme will have the consideration of a light rail solution of some kind put alongside the heavy rail proposal we originally tabled.” 

But he cautioned that “we have to be open and honest about how any of these solutions may or may not be funded.”