It has three platforms: platform 1 on the eastern side of the station serves southbound fast services to Cambridge and London King's Cross; platform 2 serves northbound services to Ely, King’s Lynn and Norwich; platform 3 is a south-facing bay serving semi-fast services to London Liverpool Street via Cambridge and Bishop's Stortford, and stopping services to London King's Cross via Cambridge and Stevenage.
The first proposal for a station serving the north of Cambridge were made in 2003 in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Structure Plan, which saw the facility as a means of supporting growth in the Cambridge Sub-Region and of delivering an integrated transport network. A major scheme business case and GRIP 2 study were presented to the Department for Transport in 2007. The business case identified a site on the West Anglia Main Line, approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) to the north of Cambridge station, which is owned by Network Rail and partly leased to English, Welsh and Scottish Railway as stabling sidings. The station would be located on or very near the site of Chesterton railway station which closed in 1850.
The station would provide an interchange facility with the local transport network including the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway and would offer a public transport alternative for trips to the Cambridge Science Park and new development in the Cambridge Northern Fringe. The business case put forward four options for the facility of which its preferred one was a three-platform station comprising a bay platform on the alignment of the former St Ives line and an island platform on the main line. This option was costed at £15 million and showed a benefit-cost ratio of 3.09.
Progress was slow due to a number of issues including the need to retain Chesterton Junction yard as an aggregate handling sidings and difficulties in relocating rail freight operations elsewhere, as well as funding difficulties resulting from the loss of the Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) support mechanism and regional planning and associated instruments such as the East of England Regional Funding Assessment. Following the demise of the TIF, which led to plans for a congestion charge in Cambridge to be put on hold, Conservative party literature indicated that the station would not go ahead, which prompted local transport group CAST.IRON to propose a cheaper single-platform station in Milton Road as an interim solution. By this time, the cost of a new station had risen to £24m, of which £21m had been expected to be provided through government funding, and Cambridgeshire County Council began seeking alternative options. The Council eventually settled on an approach whereby it would provide the initial capital funding and recoup the cost over a period of time from access charges paid by train operating companies.