Controversial Calvert crossover as HS2 and EWR meet
Britain’s two contentious and controversial independently promoted rail developments have met. The crossing point for HS2 and East West Rail is in rural Buckinghamshire, and civil engineering has been completed on the grade-separated crossing. The hugely expensive high-speed rail line HS2, between Birmingham and London, will dive under the track of East West Rail, a project to connect the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge. In a fanfare of celebration, the two projects have completed their collaboration at Calvert.
In keeping with the season, it’s beginning to look a lot like a railway. Two railways in fact. No tracks as yet, but HS2 has met East West Rail at Calvert. The Buckinghamshire village, 55 miles (88km) north of London, is unique in that it is not only having one of its former railways restored – it’s having two. However, the controversy over the vast construction projects on the doorstep has been stoked – not least because the community will not directly benefit from either. Calvert’s railway service is rubbish.
Addition to the freight scene
Calvert may be small, but it has been a hive of industry in the past. Clay pits and brickworks provided local employment and plenty of rail freight traffic. Nowadays, rubbish is all that Calvert owes to the railways. In fact, it was garbage – delivered by train. A waste processing station at Calvert, in a former clay pit, took deliveries by rail until the establishment of a railhead for HS2. Since then, the rail freight support for the dual construction projects has been an addition to the freight scene north of the village.
The HS2 construction company (HS2 Limited) has completed the last section of earthworks that will carry East West Rail (EWR) services between Oxford and Cambridge over the new high-speed line. To reduce disruption for the community and speed up construction, HS2 contractors built two bridges, one underpass, and 3.4km of adjacent earthworks for EWR where the two projects cross. The main bridge deck of the intersection bridge will carry local and regional trains over the top of one of the longest cuttings on the entire HS2 project.
Crucial section into position
Calvert does not have a provision for passenger services on either HS2 or EWR. The village did have a lightly used station on the former Great Central Railway which passed through the village. However, that line and the station closed in the 1960s. The former Member of Parliament for the constituency, John Bercow, raised questions in the House of Commons, pleading the case for a stop at Calvert. The obvious advantage would be an easy interchange between the routes. A similar interchange is being built at Bletchley, fifteen miles (24km) to the east, where EWR flies over the West Coast Main Line, where there are stops on both lines.
“The completion of this work marks a significant milestone for two of the country’s most important rail infrastructure projects”, said Huw Merriman, the UK Rail Minister, with responsibility for HS2. From the company, Hugo Rebelo, who works as HS2 Ltd’s Senior Project Manager, also recognised the importance of collaboration between the two projects. “We have been working closely with the East West Rail Alliance [the company formed to deliver the project] to get this crucial section into position and getting us to this important moment for both our projects.”
“Calvert Interchange” might have a new impetus
However, neither project has had a smooth ride to reach this point. Opposition to the HS2 project has been particularly vocal in Buckinghamshire. The construction has been the most contentious issue, as might well have been expected on a civil engineering project of such magnitude. In the case of East West Rail, the voices of dissent have been less about the re-establishment of the railway, but more about the building down to a budget approach – in stark contrast to the gold-plated HS2. However, the cancellation of the northern leg of the high-speed venture has allowed the UK Government to re-allocate funds – some of which may yet find their way to the East West Rail project.
The argument against an interchange at Calvert was always that the HS2 line would only live up to its name if there were no intermediate stops. Trains will run flat out between Old Oak Common and Solihull (Birmingham Interchange) on their way to the north of England. Furthermore, there would be no need for interchange at Calvert, because HS2 would connect to the rest of the network at multiple locations – all of which have now been cancelled.
If HS2 now has the potential to be reappraised and repositioned as a regional relief route, then might Calvert have a new impetus? The member of parliament may have moved on (to be the Speaker of the House), so it may well fall to the new representative to speak up, once again, for Calvert.