Taskforce targets better rail services for East Anglia

New trains and improved infrastructure on the Great Eastern Main Line by the end of Control Period 5 (March 31 2019) is the aim of a taskforce that has urged businesses and passengers to back its plans. 

New Anglia LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership), the region’s MPs, business and rail leaders are heading a taskforce that is demanding a faster, more reliable service on Norwich to London services.

LEP Managing Director Chris Starkie told RAIL: “We need more capacity. Network Rail has shown us that London Liverpool Street has the worst overcrowding of any station without a long-term plan.”

He said that the poor reliability of infrastructure on the line was largely down to Network Rail, and highlighted that there has been no significant infrastructure investment since electrification to Norwich was energised in 1987. “It has never been regarded as a main line,” he said.

Starkie told RAIL that the business case for investment was good, and that it will serve three of the fastest growing counties in the UK - Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. 

“The Government recognises that there is a problem because it hasn’t invested,” he said. “It recognises rail has an economic return. That is why it is investing in HS2, and the East Coast Main Line. We want a share.” 

He said Norwich’s relative lack of connectivity meant questions should be asked about funding levels. To this end, Department for Transport consultants are working on evidence that will then be passed to the LEP, for submission in time for the Government’s Autumn Settlement. 

Starkie said: “Network Rail and the DfT have been involved. This is not a group of insiders wanting investment. If we are going to put proposals together it has to be done with the DfT and Network Rail. We think there is a much better chance of success if we work with them.”

Regarding new trains, he said: “There is an opportunity to get trains that accelerate and decelerate better than the current trains. There is a rolling stock option in the new franchise that will enable this, but we believe that the quality must be maintained. That means 2+2 seating. It cannot be a commuter train - that will kill the long-distance market.”

Timetabling is also an issue that needs investigating, he said. Improved journey times do not mean existing stops will be removed, but will instead result in an increase in the number of services. 

Calls for ‘Norwich in 90 (minutes)’ is “about the ability to get from Norwich to London in that time, rather than running every train in that time”. He suggested that it would be a ‘flagship’ service that would complete the journey in 1 hour 30 minutes rather than 1 hour 56 minutes. 

Local residents and businesses are being urged to back the petition that the taskforce intends to deliver. More than 300 had signed it within three days of its July 25 launch, including major employers on the route such as Aviva.

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