Sunday, 3 July 2016

Support a Northampton-Olney-Bedford rail link to help people get from a to b quicker and easier.

Northampton (Population approximately 200, 000) is half way between London and Birmingham off the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and Bedford
(Population approx. 150, 000,) on the Thameslink/Midland Main Line, half way location is Olney (population 6500 but 5 mile catchment of villages adding up to 33, 000). There is a 20 mile gap between Northampton and Bedford. Bedford has services to Luton Airport, Luton and London, Gatwick Airport and Brighton, Northampton to Birmingham via Rugby. The two towns stare at each other, but the gap means awkward travels by lengthy bus (1.5 hours each way with congestion) and the service is not commensurate to the timetable of the railway. Different operators means different and not transferable ticketing and changes means delays and cost. Traffic queues form on the A428 into Bedford, whilst Northampton suffers gridlock with A14 (Felixstowe-Thrapston)-A45 to Northampton/M1.

We are seeking reopening of this rail link, this missing 20 mile gap in the rail network. It would link 4 airports (Gatwick, Luton, Coventry and Birmingham), one train, one ticket, and offer more joined-up options. However despite our best efforts, the Local Authorities are not showing the sort of interest we would wish for. They don't seem interested, committed or talking to each other to find common ground for route protection for example. Laissez-faire development without proper safeguarding of the route means it is subject to development encroaching on it and on deviation space making reopening prohibitive. Whatever is on paper, is not translating to the grassroots in actioning terms. 

We face an inner road scheme at Northampton, piecemeal development and multiple development threats at Olney and Bedford junctioning remains under a cloud of uncertainty. The railway would play a role in creating more capacity through Milton Keynes Central Station in terms of a loop off the West Coast Main Line (Bletchley-Bedford-Northampton/Rugby) and feed more business into the supported East-West Rail link (Oxford-Bedford-Cambridge/Corby). This scheme (Bedford-Olney-Northampton dubbed 'The Cobbler Line') needs professional support, interest and champions. We should not let a strategic corridor be assassinated by piecemeal developments of dubious worth and I therefore ask you to help us get the official and strategic support we need.

Other points:
·         Northampton LEP have offered to do a study
·         More inflows of people minus the cars for the town centre, the University, Delapre Abbey and much more
·         More commuting and work opportunities/Brackmills/University Campus by rail
·         Easier access to other towns, airports and general travel
·         More parking spaces for others to use
·         Town centre regeneration/inward investment
·         Underscore the central strategic position of Northampton
·         Could have a green park /cycle way alongside fenced off – see Marston Vale Railway for example at Millbrook.
·         Buses could feed and be fed linking A428 with faster transits in and out of the corridor
·         Northampton-Bedford-Cambridge links A45-A14 end to end giving freight by rail as a realistic choice than remote long way round as current.
Study Evidence

·         A second study in 2002 by Roger Tym and Partners – Milton Keynes and South Midlands Study also saw potential in Bedford-Northampton as one of their growth options - £380m extension of Thameslink
·         London South Midlands Multi Modal Study (2003)
·         "undue delay could see land taken for other uses" and "a commitment should, therefore, be made to the project"
·         Bedford seen as hub and link to Cambridge (for Stansted Airport)
·         Page 113 Para 9.24 An extension of Thameslink extended from Bedford-Northampton- Rugby and ultimately Birmingham possibly incorporating local service. Costed at £330m
·         Provides alternative route to London and interchanges and access from Midland Main Line/ MML to West Midlands. Luton and St Albans seen as large areas with no link to West Midlands.
·         More than Bedford-Northampton but strategic role so that average journey length would be 133km. By 2031 700 people carried in peak between on a new Bedford-Northampton rail link 
·         St Albans - Northampton 58 minutes journey time (Road 50), Luton -Birmingham 79 (165), Bedford-Birmingham 79 (98), City Thameslink 85 (116) Northampton-East Croydon 123 (205) (but service from Milton Keynes now but can’t reach Northampton due to capacity issues and is consigned to just one per hour)
·         Suggested Station at Olney and deviation needed

Atkins, East West Rail - Central Section Conditional Outputs Statement Final Report August 2015, Page 64
Cambridge – Northampton was identified as a priority pair for testing due to the potential for journey time competitiveness (compared to car travel) and enhancement (compared to existing rail). The prioritisation process has subsequently identified this journey pair as a very high priority in both the NTEM/Tempro and Local Plan growth scenarios.
Whilst the journey time saving of Cambridge – Oxford and Cambridge – Northampton are the same, the faster journey time possible between Cambridge and Northampton means that a higher level of transport user benefits and GVA commuting benefits are generated, meaning that Cambridge – Northampton emerges as a higher overall priority.
In the Local Plan Growth scenario journey pairs of Luton and Luton Airport with Northampton are identified as being high priority. The GVA impacts indicate that improving the labour market accessibility of both Luton and Northampton has the potential to generate significant GVA impacts.”
Richard Pill
ERTA 03-07-2016

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