The Anonymous Widower

Hope For Wisbech Line Revival

The title of this post, is the same as that of an article in the April 2021 Edition of Modern Railways.

This is the introductory paragraph.

A partnership with Network Rail will speed up plans to re-introduce passenger services to Wisbech, according to James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough.

These are my thoughts.

Current Plan And Status

The current plan is as follows.

  • The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority has been developing plans on its own.
  • It will now work with Network Rail.
  • The initial service will be between March and Wisbech.
  • Hopefully, a viable plan will emerge.

A direct Wisbech and Cambridge service is an objective, once capacity has been improved at Ely.

Long Term Objectives

These longer term objectives are indicated in the article.

  • A direct Wisbech and Cambridge service.
  • A two trains per hour (tph) service between Wisbech and Cambridge.

These objectives will probably need capacity to be improved at Ely.

I used to play real tennis with one of Cambridge’s foremost thinkers about the long-term future of the city and the surrounding area.

He believed that Peterborough would increasing become a satellite city to Cambridge to provide housing and manufacturing capacity.

Based on my discussions with him, I believe that there should be at least two tph connecting Cambridge South, Cambridge, Cambridge North, Ely, March and Peterborough stations.

Services Through March Station

These services go through March station.

  • Greater Anglia – 1 train per two hours (tp2h) – Ipswich and Peterborough
  • CrossCountry – 1 tph – Cambridge and Birmingham New Street
  • East Midlands Railway – 1 tph – Norwich and Liverpool Lime Street.

Note.

  1. All trains stop at Ely.
  2. The Greater Anglia service also stops at Manea and Whittlesea.
  3. Greater Anglia promised to increase the frequency of the Ipswich and Peterborough service to hourly, in the new franchise agreement.
  4. The East Midlands Railway service does not stop at March.

In addition there are often around a succession of freight trains going to and from Whitemoor Yard and the Port of Felixstowe.

Even without major improvements at Ely, I suspect, that there could be three or even gour tph between Ely and Peterborough that stop at March, with Manea and Whittlesea served by at least one tph.

This frequency would do the following..

Improve services between Cambridge and Peterborough, if you were prepared to change at Ely, as there could be up to four tph between Ely and the three Cambridge stations.

Make it possible for a simple shuttle train to run between March and Wisbech and have good connections with services at March to both Peterborough and Cambridge.

Track Layout At March

This Google Map shows the track layout at March.

Note.

  1. March station is in the South-East corner of the map.
  2. Ely is to the East.
  3. Peterborough is to the West.
  4. Whitemoor marshalling Yard is to North.

This second Google Map shows the Northern part of the map to a larger scale.

Note.

Whitemoor yard is to the North of the map.

There is a single track railway running North East  from Whitemoor junction  South of Whitemoor yard to the North East corner of the map. This is the disused Bramley Line between March and Wisbech, which will be reopened.

Between March And Wisbech

I have flown my virtual helicopter along the remains of the track between Whitemoor junction and Wisbech.

This Google Map shows a typical section of the line, just to the North of March.

Note.

Whitemoor Yard is to the West side of the map.

The Bramley Line shows as a green scar running diagonally across the map to the North-East cornet.

The blue dot marks a bus stop on the B1101.

The next three images were taken from Google Streetview.

This one shows the Bramley Line crossing the B1101.

In this one, the Bramley Line is crossing Long Drove.

And here it’s crossing Redmoor Lane.

I wouldn’t have thought, that turning the Bramley Line into a railway that would be safe for one of Greater Anglia’s three-car Class 755 trains would be a challenging project.

Approaching Wisbech

This Google Map shows how the railway approaches Wisbech.

Note.

At the Northern end of the map, there are the square white roofs of the Purina dog food factory, which appears to have been built on the site of the former Wisbech East station.

At the Southern end of the map, the railway crosses the A47.

This Google Map on a larger scale shows the Purina factory.

I don’t think it will be very easy to site a station in this area, without a great deal of friendly co-operation of Nestle, who own Purina.

This Google Map on a larger scale shows where the Bramley Line crosses the A47.

This image looking to the North from the A47, was taken from Google Streetview.

It definitely says that the Railway woz here!

This Google Map shows the A47 and what lies to the South of the road.

Note.

  1. The two-way A47 road across the map.
  2. The development to the South of the A47.
  3. The green scar of the former railway to the West of the development.

Looking at the route of the former railway and the A47, I must come to the conclusion that using the former route to access Wisbech would be extremely difficult and would require an expensive crossing of the A47.

A New Station At Wisbech

I think there are two solutions to providing a station for Wisbech; a Park-and-Ride station, where the former railay crossed the A 47 or find another site.

As a bridge over the A47 would be expensive, I would feel that the Park-and-Ride station could be the best option.

It could have a single platform like Felixstowe, which is shown in this image.

The train is one of Greater Anglia’s new Class 755 trains which would probably be used for services to Wisbech.

  • Adequate car parking could be provided at the station.
  • Secure bicycle parking would be provided.
  • There could be an electric shuttle bus to the town centre and the the North Cambridgeshire Hospital.

The only simple alternative, would be if it were possible to dig or bore a short single-track tunnel under the A47, so that the station could be put on the town side of the A47, where a lot of the land seems to be used for parking cars that are ready for the scrapyard.

Digging it should be possible given some of the traditionally dug tunnels, that have recently been built in the UK.

Would The Bramley Line Be Single Or Double Track?

The Felixstowe Branch Line is about the same length as the Bramley Line and is effectively a single-track line with a long passing loop to support a one tph passenger service.

So to support the desired two tph between March and Wisbech, I suspect that a mainly single-track route with a passing place in the middle will be needed.

Would There Be Any Intermediate Stations?

There used to be a station at Coldham, which is about halfway. Te Wikipedia entry for the station says this.

A plan by the Bramley Line to restore the line between Wisbech and March may see trains return to Coldham in some form.

This Google Map shows the village.

Note.

The road going to the West is called Station Road.

The green scar of the former railway can be seen passing North-South to the West of the houses.

This view from Google Streetview shows the former railway looking North from Station Road.

Could a double-track section be squeezed in here?

The Wikipedia entry for the Bramley Line shows two other stations, that were planned for a proposed heritage railway; March Elm Road and Waldersea.

This Google Map shows the area between March and Wisbech.

Note.

  1. March is in the South-West corner of the map.
  2. Wisbech is in the North-East corner of the map.
  3. Waldersea is indicated by the red arrow.
  4. Coldham is South of the red arrow.

Although March Elm Road and Waldersea might be ideal for a heritage railway, I suspect that the old British Rail layout of just a station, where trains can pass at Coldham would be the best layout.

What Trains Would Be Used?

I have assumed that Greater Anglia will use their three-car Class 755 trains.

  • They are new comfortable trains.
  • They are designed to carry bicycles.
  • When the route is extended to Cambridge, they would be able to use the electrification South of Ely.

I also feel that Greater Anglia planned their fleet size to include enough trains for a Wisbech service.

Could Battery Electric Trains Be Used?

The Class 755 trains are designed as modular bi-mode trains with a PowerPack in the middle, which contains diesel engines.

Stadler are building Class 756  tri-mode versions of these trains for Transport for Wales, which will have batteries and two diesel engines in the PowerPack.

In Thoughts On The Actual Battery Size In Class 756 Trains And Class 398 Tram-Trains, I stated that a three-car Class 756 train would have a 480 kWh battery capacity and the four-car would have 600 kWh. These figures came from a Freedom of Information Request. Not by me, I should add!

Batteries of these sizes would I feel give the Class 755 trains a range of up to fifty miles.

The various distances in the area are.

  • March and Ely – 15 miles
  • March and Peterborough – 15 miles
  • March and Wisbech – 12 miles

I think that Stadler’s and Network Rail’s engineers can come up with a very affordable plan, that will enable tri-mode Class 755 trains to run the following routes.

  • Cambridge and Wisbech and return.
  • Ely and Peterborough

As part of the works to improve capacity at Ely, I suspect there will be some renewal and extension of the electrification in the complicated junction.

So would the electrification be extended a few miles towards March, to remove any need for charging at Wisbech station?

What would certainly ensure battery-electric services to Wisbech would be the electrification of Ely and Peterborough via March.

I feel this is an important electrification infill, that should be done sooner rather than later.

  • It would be needed if it were decided, that all freight trains to and from Felixstowe were to be electric-hauled.
  • It would enable direct electric passenger services between Cambridge and the North.
  • It would help enable battery-electric operation between Peterborough and Norwich.
  • It would allow trains from the North to use Liverpool Street as an alternative terminal during engineering works or other blockades.

It might even make it easier to widen or replace the Digswell Viaduct, as it would offer a fully-electrified diversion route via Cambridge, during the inevitable long closure of the route.

Improvements At March Station

March station will need to be improved, if it is going to be used as an interchange station.

It will probably need a bay platform to turn the Wisbech trains.

I also think that step-free access will be needed for passengers, who need to cross the tracks and can’t manage the stairs.

Conclusion

I very much feel that the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority and Network Rail can create a very useful branch line to Wisbech.

There is not much infrastructure to be built and upgraded.

  • A new station will be built at Wisbech, which I feel is likely to be a Park-and-Ride on the A47.
  • A bay platform will probably need to be reopened at March station.
  • March station will need to be step-free.
  • There may be a station and a passing loop at Coldham.
  • Track and signalling will need to be replaced.

But the big project needed is the remodelling at Ely, which will have to be done to increase capacity, through the bottleneck.

Greater Anglia’s Class 755 trains would appear to be ideal for the branch and could operate on battery power.

 

 

 

 

April 11, 2021 - Posted by | Transport | , , , , ,

8 Comments »

  1. It has previously been quoted as £200m cost although perhaps NR are going to apply project speed to it to see what they reduce it to. At £200m its quite frankly unaffordable and I believe its the view that LXings are no longer allowed on new lines so that’s added millions to the project. The industry and its safety and regulatory authorities really need to step back and reassess some of the standards that aim for zero risk in the industry otherwise there won’t be one and all we are doing is transferring the traffic to the roads with a much higher risk but the industries conscious is clear.

    Comment by Nicholas Lewis | April 11, 2021 | Reply

    • My late wife was a family barrister and knew Wisbech well, although I don’t think she ever went, as a lot of her work came from a solicitors in the town. There were always stories of bad driving and from my own experience of living in Suffolk for forty years, East Anglia’s level crossings are disasters waiting to happen.

      As some are on lanes perhaps a few could be closed.

      Comment by AnonW | April 11, 2021 | Reply

  2. Hi, I live near Wisbech, so I know the line well. Impossible to put a tunnel in as the area is running silt. When the factories were built, the main sewers were replaced at least three times as they disappeared. The area was a swamp, and the line might have been put in on brushwood like the line between Kings Lynn and Ely. The original station was to the right of the scrapyard, Nestle was built partly over the old Goods Yard, it was still extant 30 years ago, and the occasional train excursion topped and tailed to the yard. Goods deliveries stopped about 10 years ago to Nestle. There are plans to put a Rubbish Burning Incinerator just before the Weasenham Lane old crossing, so it would pay to involve the company to bring in the rubbish to burn by rail, it would help costing. All the bridges are life expired now, and the Automatic crossings taken out of use and rails removed. I have heard figures from eight to one hundred million to replace the line. The Town Council have tried to incorporate Wisbech into Greater Peterborough, so as to get more funding to improve facilities in the town. It needs someone to organise it all, to get it funded and underway. Moving money from a new A47 road to a railway would be better for the Environment, and be easier to commute to Cambridge and Peterborough. Remoddelling Ely is about to be done, its been waiting to start for ten years now.

    Comment by jagracer | April 11, 2021 | Reply

    • Thanks!

      Having seen and read about a few concrete tunnels in places like The Netherlands, there may be a way to do it, but the station could always be put on the Southern side of the A47.

      My late wife, who did a lot of divorces in the area, also said that many families have two cars to get around, which is why I suggested a Park-and-Ride station.

      But if they were going to supply the incinerator by rail, there would have to be a crossing of the A47. But the incinerator would have that in its budget.

      The Modern Railways article says that the Ely remodelling would be done in tandem with the Wisbech branch. The capacity would probably only be needed for two trains per hour.

      On the other hand, Network Rail and their equivalents in Europe have been very innovative with track layouts and train pathing in the last few years and they may come up with a new and better plan for Ely.

      I have a feeling, that this pair of projects could end up being implemented in a very different way.

      I shall update the main post in the next couple of days. So check back.

      Comment by AnonW | April 11, 2021 | Reply

  3. I live in Wisbech and have looked into this extensively.

    I cannot find any Wisbech specific figures but overall in the Fenland district (Wisbech, Whittlesey, March, Chatteris) 20% of urban households have no access to a car and 46% have a single car. However Wisbech is by far the most populous and most deprived out of the 4 towns in the district so the proportion of households without a car or only one is likely to be much higher there. These figures might also miss out the large amount of migrant workers (up to 10,000 pre-brexit) in the town who will likely not have vehicles.

    This means means a P&R station south of the A47 bypass will be inaccessible to the people who will be most likely to use the train. The southern location would be a ~3km walk from the town centre through a large industrial estate; most of the population lives north of the town centre so could face even longer walks. Plus there would need to be foot/cycle bridge over the A47.

    The southern location also would be difficult to serve with buses, the Excel service (half-hourly) could serve it with a 1km detour, there are also two approximately hourly services, the 46 and 56 which would require 4km detours.

    Thus the station must be in the town centre. Crossing the A47 is not as big a problem as it might seem because the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Metro Mayor and Highways England are planning to complete the dualling of the A47 between King’s Lynn and Peterborough which will probably require a new route around Wisbech. The new road could be built with a bridge ready to the railway to run under. Therefore the new station could be built in the vicinity of the Nestlé Purina car park, a location walkable and cycleable from much more of the town.

    The only problem with this is that it would be very difficult to extend the line to Lynn as it used to, which would make the line much more useful for both towns. The incredibly short sited council did not protect the right of way from the former station heading eastwards out of the town, and continue to develop the old route. There are now 34 homes built on the route, some built in the last few years and 10s more due to built over the old line east of the town in the coming years. With the council and network rail being so weak, the route would have to divert around the town following the bypass if it was to to extended to Lynn. There was a well done proposal for this done some years ago called “LynnK” (I cannot find it online any more). It proposed a station in the vicinity of the A47, A1101 roundabout, this would still be a park & ride style station but being on the A1101 it would be much easier served by buses and closer to more homes. The line would then follow the bypass around before picking up the old route again to continue to Lynn.

    Hope this provides some local insight.

    Comment by Wisbechian | April 12, 2021 | Reply

  4. Thanks for your insight! There are several towns like Wisbech, where the railway was removed, but there was no thought given to how it could be put back, if it were needed. Cirencester still has the rail alignment, but no place for a station. Aldeburgh is another.

    What do you feel about the incinerator? If that is built it surely needs rail access. I suspect that as London has two central incinerators without rail access, that anyone can build one without!

    Comment by AnonW | April 13, 2021 | Reply

    • I have not done much research into the incinerator, I think it was originally meant to be constructed in King’s Lynn but was successfully fought off. There is a well supported campaign in Wisbech to prevent it being built, with lots of banners all around the town and signs in windows.

      It would certainly improve the business case for a rail freight terminal though, various companies in the town have also expressed interest in restored freight service. There is nearly 60 hectares (150 acres) of food production and warehousing just in the town itself with half of this being Princes Foods factory and 2 depots. There in an additional 15ha of depots on the A47 towards Peterborough. The largest freezer in the UK is right next to the old railway line (https://isd-solutions.co.uk/project/partner-logistics-wisbech/), a fully automated temperature controlled warehouse with room for 77,000 pallets.

      Del Monte and Fountain foods import truckloads of produce from Spain and the Netherlands every week, so there will be demand for exporting food produced in the town out and demand for import the raw ingredients.

      The port of Wisbech has a fortnightly ship from Riga, Latvia importing soft wood (used to make sheds and roof trusses in factories by the port) and exporting scrap metal. The proximity of the port should also help the case for a freight terminal.

      Wisbech sits between King’s Lynn and Peterborough which both have a lot of manufacturing and logistics centres with no containerised freight handling facilities. They make use of Wisbech as well, though Peterborough could justify its own terminal.

      With a realigned bypass after the dualling there would be room for a 400m freight terminal between that and New Bridge Lane, else a line could curve off parallel to the bypass giving room for a 775m siding able to receive the longest trains in the country.

      Comment by Wisbechian | April 13, 2021 | Reply

      • I wonder here whether Network Rail are playing a wider game. Some of the Beeching Reversal projects appear to be have several purposes.

        Provide passengers with a new service they want.

        Give Network Rail a diversion route, which might mae train operations easier.

        As you say, the area needs a freight terminal and there used to be a massive one at March.

        If Tesco run trains between Spain and Barking, might they want to run freight trains between Wisbech and lots of places? But these trains would not be massive freight trains, but four-car multiple units. The freight industry is changing and Tesco et al, know there are more sales if they cut their carbon footprint.

        I wouldn’t be surprised to see a much better plan emerge, perhaps in conjunction with the dualling of the A47.

        I thought this at Arundel.

        Beeching Reversal – Arundel Chord

        The simple chord is much more important for Network Rail, as it gives them extra options for engineering works and other disruptions.

        Comment by AnonW | April 13, 2021


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