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Cambridgeshire County Council Leaflet in Support of Reopening Passenger Services on the Railway (1994)


The original line from Cambridge to St Ives was opened in 1847 by the Great Eastern Railway. The line operated successfully during an era of rail growth with patronage levels sustaining service through to the 1960's. With the growth in the ownership and use of private cars patronage declined and in1970 British Rail ceased passenger services. Freight had always been an important component of the rail traffic on this line and the sand and gravel pits at Fen Drayton ensured that the line did not fall out of use completely until January 1993. British Rail now wish to dispose of the redundant line.

Cambridgeshire County Council, supported by South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridge City Council and Huntingdonshire District Council have carried out a preliminary study of the feasibility of re-introducing a passenger service. The findings of this study are encouraging.

The County Council is now in the process if acquiring the redundant line and developing in detail the proposed re-opening scheme. South Cambridgeshire District Council has offered a contribution towards the acquisition cost and it is hoped that the other Districts will be able to follow this lead.


The Cambridge area has a strong, prosperous local economy that will continue growing well into the next century, with the continuing inward investment and growth of local companies. With this growth there is the accompanying demand for travel. The corridor in which the Cambridge - St Ives branch line runs also accommodates the A14 trunk road. Traffic on the road has increased by 75% in the last 10 years and it now carries up to 63,000 vehicles/day. The extension of this route into Cambridge carries 20,000 vehicles/day.

The County Council's transport strategy for Cambridge is based on sustainability. Growth in demand for motor vehicle movement in the City cannot be matched simply by new road building. Attractive and effective alternatives to the private car must be sought. The Cambridge - St Ives railway provides such an opportunity.

Over the past decade there have been numerous reopenings of stations and disused sections of railway line through England and Wales. Some of the best known examples are the Robin Hood Line in Nottinghamshire and the Ribble Valley Line in Lancashire. The further and more detailed evaluation of the Cambridge - St Ives line will draw on the experience gained elsewhere. This work and the task of obtaining the necessary funding for the scheme will be quite lengthy. Realistically, it is likely to be several years before the scheme could be in operation.


High quality modern trains are proposed providing fast and comfortable journeys into the City. There would be stations in the villages en-route and in the Science Park on the northern fringe on Cambridge. The service would run on a half hour 'clock face' frequency with journeys between Cambridge and St Ives taking only 22 minutes.

The rail service would be well suited to service employment centres within Cambridge. In addition, journeys to the Regional College near to the Science Park Station would be well provided for. Initial studies suggest that overall some 3,500 passengers every day would use the service.

[ Map showing stations: ]

  • St Ives (500 space park and ride site)
  • Swavesey
  • Longstanton
  • Oakington (500 space park and ride site)
  • Histon
  • Science Park
  • Cambridge


Preliminary estimates have been made for the costs of providing an electric train service. This includes acquiring the rail track and land for car parks, providing stations, up-grading the line, leasing rolling stock in addition to staff and maintenance costs.

Setting up costs:
Land Acquisition/Car Parks 3.0m
Railway Engineering Works 15.0m
Total System Set Up Costs 18.0m
Annual operating Costs for the Railway
Rolling Stock leasing 0.70m
Other Operating Costs 0.55m
Total Annual Operating Costs 1.25m

It now seems unlikely that the service could run through Cambridge station to destinations in the south of the City and beyond. This suggests that a diesel 'Sprinter' service, operating as a 'shuttle' between Cambridge and St Ives, could be more cost-effective. This option is now being studied.


The initial study suggests that the costs of daily operation would be covered by the revenues generated from passengers. If there were any shortfall, this cost would have to be met by the promoting authority. Funding the setting up of the railway would have to come from:

  • Department of Transport Section 56 Grant
  • Local Authorities
  • Private Sector contributions
  • Possible funding from the European Union
The Department of Transport has been consulted and is advising on the development of the scheme. Beyond this the scope for approaching the European Union for funding is being explored. EU funding has been forthcoming for similar schemes. The opportunity for private sector funding will also be pursues. Major new developments that would benefit from the rail service offer potential in this direction.


South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cambridge City Coucil and Huntingdonshire District Coucil are supportive. There has been a strong body of support from local residents and other interested organisations.


  • Finalise the acquisition of the disused route to St Ives.
  • Undertake discussions with the Railway Inspectorate to establish operating standards for the railway.
  • Approach Rail Franchise Companies to identify operational interest.
  • Consult Railtrack on rail engineering aspects.
  • Discuss the project with the Rail Franchise Director and the Rail Regulator.
  • Undertake a detailed engineering and operational appraisal.
  • Refine the patronage forecasts.
  • Undertake Section 56 Grant discussions with the Department of Transport and seek Private Sector contributions.
  • The revenues, Benefits and cost estimates are all preliminary figures. there have to be refined and their robustness investigated in conjunction with the rail industry and the Depatment of Transport. The feasibility of alternative transport uses has to be explored. Subject to this assessment a Section 56 grant application will be made to the Department of Transport.

    June 1994
    Cambridge County Council
    Site last modified July 2020