Plans to build a station on the main line north east of Chelmsford within the next ten years now seem ludicrously ambitious because of changes to the structure of the railways and the likely high cost.
For several years, developers and residents have been pressing for a new station to be built at Springfield or Beaulieu Park to meet the needs of the many more newcomers expected as further development takes place.
The station was one of the few included in the Strategic Rail Authority’s list of preferred developments and Chelmsford Borough Council hoped that the new facility would be in service some time between 2011 and 2015.
Under British Rail it was relatively easy to get a new station opened, since there was only one transport organisation to deal with. Now, with the railways in private hands with several different companies and organisations involved in the process, developers are finding it harder to get schemes even on the drawing board, let alone built. Moreover, recent changes to the structure of the railway following the enactment of the Railways Act 2005 and the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority mean that the situation for the development of new stations has become even more complicated.
The borough council says that it ‘regards the development of the new station as a vital element of its transport strategy for the Borough in 2021, and is pleased that the project has the support of the Strategic Rail Authority, Network Rail and the operators’.
Unfortunately, that is not strictly the case. The Strategic Rail Authority’s role in developing new stations is now split between Network Rail and the Department for Transport. Network Rail, which owns and runs the track and infrastructure of the whole rail system, has taken over the SRA’s planning role and much its work has been shelved as the new organisation takes a new look at the railways.
Instead, Network Rail is preparing a Route Utilisation Study for the train services out of Liverpool Street and that will examine the feasibility of such projects as Springfield/Beaulieu Park. The work has only just started and the study will not be published until the end of 2006, at the earliest.
As for the local train operator, One, it also says that the scheme is at a too early stage to decide whether it would definitely support the idea. A new station requires extra time in the schedule and may even result in new rolling stock being needed, and that in turn would require more government subsidy.
The new station would definitely need two new tracks and a considerable amount of expensive signalling and points pushing the expense up to tens of millions of pounds.
While the council has said that the scheme would be ‘developer’ or, more specifically, ‘privately’ provided, the large amount of money required may deter any potential funder. The main source of funding would be Section 106 money, which is the arrangement under which developers pay for facilities such as roads and community centres out of profits made from building homes or offices.
However, the expensive nature of the work suggests it would be impossible to fund the scheme entirely out of Section 106 money. Essex county council currently receives an average of around £3,500 per dwelling through Section 106 to use on all extra facilities. Therefore even a large development of 3,000 homes would only provide around £10m, nothing like the estimated £30m+ required.
Mark Leslie of the Essex Rail Travellers Group, which has long been campaigning for several new stations in the area, says: ‘We seem to be no nearer getting this station than we were in the 1990s. The Department for Transport just does not seem interested.’
Indeed, a spokesman for the Department for Transport appeared to confirm this: ‘The plan for this new station is not even at the stage of us being involved, and therefore we have no view on it’.
Supporters of the new station appear to be in for at best a long wait at best, or an indefinite one at worst.
Christian Wolmar is author of On the Wrong Line, the history of rail privatisation, published by Aurum, £12. www.christianwolmar.co.uk