The ‘Isaac Newton Line’ would be the backbone of Cambridge Light Rail, following a route (~ 22 km) via the University West Campus, the historic City Centre, the Cambridge Central Rail Station, continuing through Addenbrookes and the Biomedical Campus, Great Shelford, and Sawston before terminating at Granta Park to the southeast. In recognition of long-term regional planning needs in Cambridgeshire, the Isaac Newton Line will strategically connect with the surrounding region through its city and regional Extensions, link with bus services, connect to Park & Ride locations, support cycle routes and infrastructure, and provide pedestrians with improved city access, thus providing a true multi-modal approach to meeting transport needs. Furthermore, the Isaac Newton Line and its Extensions are designed to integrate with, and support infrastructure developments proposed in the Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge ‘growth corridor’.
Over a number of months since launching Cambridge Connect, we conducted an online survey of five ‘Options’ for potential light rail routes. Survey respondents showed a clear preference for ‘Option A’ and ‘Option C’ of these suggested routes, and these have been combined to create the proposed ‘Isaac Newton Line‘. This central light rail spine would connect major employment centres and create linkages with regional hubs that are currently not well served. Extensions to Haverhill and Cambourne could improve access to these important and rapidly developing residential centres, giving Cambridge Light Rail a strong vision for long-term planning.
The ‘Isaac Newton Line‘ would run underground within the historic city core to protect the globally outstanding architectural heritage of the Colleges and Departments of the University of Cambridge, and to improve and enhance the amenity space and environmental quality of the inner City. It would run overground in other areas, linking to, and aligning with existing major transport corridors to maximise connectivity and follow routes that would minimise environmental impacts.
Cambridge Connect suggests five main phases for Cambridge Light Rail development, which could be implemented singly or in combination, and in stages:
- ISAAC NEWTON LINE (2018-23): connect Girton Interchange and Granta Park via University West Campus, City Centre and Addenbrookes;
- EXTENSION A (2023-28): connect Cambridge Central Station to Science Park via Newmarket Road, ‘Wing’ and Milton Road;
- EXTENSION B (2025-27): connect Cambridge Central Station to Capital Park and Fulbourn via Cherry Hinton;
- EXTENSION C (2028-31): connect Girton Interchange to the Science Park via Histon Road and Cambridge Regional College (this extension depends on Ext. A);
- REGIONAL CONNECTIONS (2020? – ): connect the Isaac Newton Line to Haverhill in the southeast and Cambourne in the northwest, centres which are not presently served by rail links.
Other extensions may also be worthy of consideration, and we welcome suggestions.
The mix of overground and underground is designed to help keep costs manageable, and could be adjusted according to constraints and needs. At this stage, we have assumed that Extension A may need to be underground where it coincides with the heavy rail line to Ely, although this needs detailed investigation. The Isaac Newton Line would replace the existing busway route (Cambridge Central Station – Trumpington) to provide a more sustainable form of transport well-integrated into the overall network. Busways have been converted to Light Rail in other cities, for example in Edinburgh and in Caen, France. It would also be feasible to continue to operate the busway until finance permitted conversion, although this would impair the efficiency, reliability, convenience and speed of the network until conversion was completed.
The time-frames suggested are indicative, and clearly depend on whether support and finance can be secured for the concepts, or some combination or variation. Initially, it is anticipated that a two-year period (2016-18) of detailed research, planning and persuasion will be needed to start the journey towards these goals.
The stops suggested in all phases are indicative, and require proper technical, social, environmental and economic evaluation and discussion. At this stage, the average length between stops is about 1 km, which is in accordance with the 2014 European average (International Association of Public Transport (UITP)). The mid-distance of 500 m between stops is a reasonable distance to walk.
All Options would connect to the road and bus service network, which would service links around the city, and to outlying towns and villages. The system would integrate with the rail network at Cambridge Central, Cambridge North, and Shelford Stations (and potentially the new station planned for Addenbrookes), and employment centres such as Granta Park, Hinxton and Babraham, with cycleways, local buses, pedestrian access, and with Park & Ride / Park & Bike hubs at strategic locations. Cambridge Light Rail would thus form a complementary mode of transport to the other modes that people choose according to their needs. In due course the whole system would represent a well-connected multi-modal network. This approach is adopted in numerous European cities, although there remains much to be done before this is achieved in Cambridge.