Mathematical Cambridge. First the Bridge, Now the Station.
There is a brand new railway station on the northern edge of Cambridge in England. It is imaginatively called ‘Cambridge North.’ It is the first new station that has been built in the city since 1845. It is contemporary, shiny and completely digital. It is designed to reflect the local hi tech entrepreneurial brilliance. It cost fifty million quid and opened two years late against its schedule.
The external surfaces of the station are completely decorated with a mathematical pattern called the ‘Game of Life’. This is a modern numerical contrivance that was invented by a certain Mr. John Horton Conway. He was educated at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. He later lectured there and also in the United States. He is still alive and as bright as a button at the age of 80. He is highly regarded in his intellectual field by his compatriots and students.
The Game of Life is an example of a cellular automaton form of presentation. It became world famous when it was first published and introduced in the magazine ‘Scientific American’ in 1970. It is today a staple of recreational mathematics. It is also used as a practical exercise in computer laboratories for programing and data display. As far as I can gather, the pattern is a representation of prime numbers arranged in a particular and coherent order. The station external panelling is of a metallic shiny bright silver colour and Mr. Conway is an incomprehensible mathematical boffin. Cambridge, of course, loves him.
Cambridge North station is the descendent of the famous mathematical bridge behind Queens College in the city. This compact span is rather old and wrinkly in our modern age but it is uniquely supported purely by is geometrical structure. It has no attachments or nuts and bolts and is constructed of mere wooden planks. The bridge was the work of an earlier mathematics professor as well.
Cambridge North station is located in the city suburb of Chesterton. It is there to serve an adjacent top flight technical research park and a separate business park. The people employed at these centres are young, bright, fit and energetic. They travel to and from the station on their bicycles where there are spaces to park a 1000 of them. Cambridge lies in the Fens where everywhere is flat. There are more keen cyclists going to work on their bikes in Cambridge than in any other city in Britain. Parking places for the polluting motor car at Cambridge North are kept down to a humble 450.
Cambridge north station is relatively small. It covers an area of only 450 square meters and has a mere three platforms. The length of the covered bridge that links the platforms to the station is 27 meters.
There are not many services that route through the station presently. It is fed only by trains from Ely and Norwich from the north but provides onwards rail travel between itself and the London terminals. Not many people from Norwich, lying in the darkest Norfolk countryside, will work at the research park I suspect. In 2019, there will be an additional route to Stansted airport. Initially, 3000 person journeys a day are expected.
Cambridge North station is well linked to Cambridge city centre by a sparkling new automatic busway and additional services.
Cambridge North is bang up to date. It is all digital and hardly anyone works there. You cannot spend any real money because there isn’t anyone there to take it. I had bought my ticket for one pound and ninety nine pence from the Cambridge main station before I departed. Cambridge North is the only station in Britain that does not have a manned ticket office.
Ten percent of the electrical power consumed by the station is provided by the sun. Solar power is becoming big business in the flat Fens. I have to speculate as to what may happen in the winter months when the region is descended on by the almost permanent gloomy murk and moisture. Maybe I should hope that this weather will also delay my flight from Stansted.
On the day I visited, there were only a few employees around. Some of them provided the basic safety services. One or two did the station cleaning but there were two other people that you could actually speak to if you wanted. One of them could actually take your money but you would have to go outside. There was a pretty girl providing information from behind a kiosk window in the concourse. She had an enviable job as no one would ever really need to ask her anything. There was also another really nice girl poised outside the station terminal. She provided the coffee. She manned an old style pedal bike converted to hold all the required machinery. I was sad that I could not buy a coffee from her because I had spent all my spare change on the ticket before I left. She was a piece of real human life amongst all the robotic technology. I took a photo of her and showed it to her. She smiled just like a real person and wished me luck with my article.
Cambridge North station was late in arriving. It opened two years behind the plan in May, 2017. The bulk of the delays were due largely to planning compliance. The need for the station was first recognised more than 50 years ago but rules are rules. The planning authorities even decided to find out if any of the protected species of the celebrated great crested newt would be displaced. After much and long investigation, none were found.
Greater Anglia and Great Northern trains operate through Cambridge North just now. It is intended to link up with a service to Oxford sometime in the future. This would really be a great boost for the local and national economy. There is no railway line in existence, however, between Cambridge and Oxford at the moment.
My visit to the station was a very contemporary experience. I felt alone amongst the quietly humming computer technology. I wondered just for a moment whether the employees of the BBC at the nearby business park could have a word with their boss. Perhaps he would agree to get the Daleks to do the cleaning jobs at Cambridge North station to complete the picture.
I got on my hypothetical bike and set off for home again. I waved to the coffee girl on her real cycle. She waved back and watched me return to the real people, civilisation and humanity of Cambridge City. I was headed for the Eagle pub to murder a pint of real ale.