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Hunts Post October 08 2003

The Cast.Iron case for a railway

SUPPORT for reopening the Cambridge to St Ives Railway line is picking up speed.

In days, the number of people signing up to join the group rose from 200 to more than 350.

Meetings are planned during November at places that would benefit.

The organisers say that if the momentum continues at this rate, the vision to reopen the line, closed in 1970, could be on track before the guided bus gets the all clear.

Tim Phillips, the founder and chairman of CAST.IRON, the Cambridge and St Ives Railway Organisation formed in July of this year, said: "This would not be a heritage project, or a preservation scheme. We plan to offer a practical transport alternative."

He said: "We want to put a credible case before the county council meets in December. The current application which has been put forward does not preclude going for rail and in December the county council will vote whether or not to go ahead with the Guided Bus scheme. At the last vote, 30 of the 58 councillors were in favour so we realise we have to persuade these councillors that ours is a better option."

Phillips, a 41 year-old accountant who lives in Cambridge, runs CAST.IRON with David McKay, 36, a scientist and Jerry Alderson, 39, a businessman. Since forming the group only 10 weeks ago they have attracted donations of £10,000.

Said Phillips. "This provides an enabling fund to meet costs of leaflets but we are not naive and we realise money is a hurdle. But we have got this far on practically nil costs which is impressive. Our next big step is to form a limited company and create a share prospectus to raise £2 million."

The CAST.IRON plan is to restore regular, timetabled rail services on the Cambridge-St Ives line without going to Government to seek large funds. Much of the practical work will be carried out by volunteers and the group is not short of them.

At a meeting in Cambridge this month 41 officers were appointed from the 350 members, each with a responsibility to oversee a specific part of the project including line inspections and forming a coalition made from any anti-Guided Bus groups.

The campaign is structured in phases and the initial task will be for volunteers to restore the track between Cambridge Science Park and Swavesey. This section would be the first to get up and running using hired rolling stock and prove that the project is viable.

But as yet, the group has been turned down by Network Rail.

It said: "Network Rail does not want to appear dismissive of the CAST.IRON proposals. It would not be appropriate to commence discussions with another organisation in the light of the pending application under the Transport and Works Act (1992) (TWA) by Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC).

"Currently, there is no indication that CAST.IRON is at a similar stage with their proposal and Network Rail has to deal with the scheme currently going through the statutory process. However under the TWA a public enquiry is required and that will ultimately decide upon the merit of the CCC scheme.'

Said Phillips: "I don't see a problem myself because the world and his wife walks their dog along there. But we realise we need to work in partnership with people. Our survey and clearance of this track can only be helpful because even if the Guided Bus scheme gets the go ahead it will be easier to lift the line if we have cleared the under and overgrowth."

He added: "In the Lake District, a 10 mile stretch of line was re-laid at a cost of about £6 million but this line was working so the cost included having to stop the service. Our costs would be less."

While he states that the biggest hurdles for CAST.IRON are "the county council and money" Phillips remains upbeat.

"It all comes down to timing. If the Guided Bus scheme is booted out, possibly through a public enquiry, and another scheme has to be considered then perhaps people will want to invest in this one.

"Tony Blair said at the recent Labour conference that this country would have to get used to volunteers, public and private partnerships and this really is a third way of getting things done and bypassing conventional costs.

"We have the volunteers to do a lot of the work. And it is democracy. We have been told we want a Guided Bus when we don't. We simply don't believe in that. We are not simply rail enthusiasts or preservationists. We want to run a viable form of community public transport and we want to start it before the Guided Bus even gets off the ground."

INFORMATION: For more information about CAST.IRON and how to join go to www.castiron.org.uk. Or write to Saint Francis House, 10 Newmarket Road, Cambridge, CB5 8DT. Anyone who would be willing to distribute leaflets about CAST.IRON should contact Charles Warner on 07919 400159.

A Meeting discussing Rapid Transit. Can a Busway Between Huntingdon, St Ives and Cambridge Work? with Councillor Shona Johnstone, Cabinet Member responsible for Environment and Transport at Cambridgeshire County Council will be held at St Mary's Parish Hall, The Walks East, Huntingdon on Tuesday October 14 at 8pm. The meeting has been organised by the Huntingdon and Godmanchester Civic Society. Contact David Hufford on 01480 450920 or Richard Meredith on 01480 380505.

HUNTINGDON MP Jonathan Djanogly: "I have to say that during my extensive consultations locally where I attended many meetings and had hundreds of conversations with people, the most popular view was certainly for a light rail project. Light rail has the benefits of being able to take more people and it is environmentally friendly. Heavy rail is not and it is much more expensive.

While I am not discarding these plans and I do have concerns regarding the Guided Bus proposals, I would also have concerns for a heavy rail project. My priority is for a line between Cambridge and Bedford following the A428. That part of our area has inadequate communications and this would present a tremendous opportunity for promoting industry and cross-country access. The reality of the situation is and what is going on in the world of heavy rail is not good. This is not a fast-moving area. Let's face it, it took more than a year to get a loo reopened at Huntingdon station."

COUNCILLOR Kevin Reynolds, Mayor of St Ives: "I have yet to find anyone apart from people associated with Cambridgeshire County Council who have any faith in the Rapid Transit System. And there is certainly nobody in St Ives. The system brings no benefits to St Ives. If they bring a bus lane up Houghton Road it would mean cutting down a lovely row of trees.

Finance is a big issue. It seems unlikely that Government or the county council will help because they have decided on the Guided Bus as the cheapest option.

"We currently have a wonderful bus service between St Ives and Cambridge and if the Guided Bus goes ahead we may lose that. I can't see it working. People are expected to drive off the A14 to come into St Ives and park their car and get on the Guided Bus. Are they going to do that? I doubt it. I think the CAST.IRON proposal has a lot of merit and I would like to see the next stage."

HOWARD Johnston from Sawtry specialises in transport issues. "You cannot just put trains back on the tracks these days, it is not so simple. Britain is so bureaucratic now that I almost need a public enquiry before I can make any changes in my own garden.

"You need massive political support before you can do anything. We have here a magnificent piece of railway which should not be torn up. The track fizzles out around St Ives because part was removed when the bypass was built. So we would have to build a link road to the railway, a station, buy land, build roads, create parking space for park and ride and remove trees that are growing on the line. Then there would be the signaling and fencing and tracks would have to be laid to a very high safety spec. It would cost around £100 million.

But, given that amount, it makes far more sense to keep the track down. If they surface over the track there will be serious regrets. People do not use buses any more. The Guided Bus will not be well used and therefore become uneconomical and the temptation to turn it into another public road after five years or so will be too great.

I can see in 10 years time nothing will have happened but the A14 will be gridlocked and the bushes on the traintrack will have grown into trees."

CAST.IRON Fact File

The line between Chesterton Junction and Fen Drayton is in Network Rail (NR) ownership. CAST.IRON is negotiating for access to clear the vegetation and arrange for the track to be returned to a useable standard. CAST.IRON is also investigating lease or purchase of the line.

CAST.IRON plans to reconnect the line to Huntingdon and electrify it. In the meantime an initial service between Swavesey and the Science Park, using heavy rail vehicles but under light rail rules, could start within a year at a cost of £1-£2 million.

This would provide around 450 seats into Cambridge daily meaning more than 300 cars off the A14.

Heavy rail is conventional rail. Light rail means trams. Heavy rail and light rail have the same distance between the rails which means a light rail vehicle can run on heavy rail tracks.

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