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Faster, more reliable trains ‘promised’ for East Anglia under £2.2bn spending proposals

A First Capital Connect train heading to King's Lynn along the Fen Line after passing the Ely North junction. Picture: Ian Burt

A First Capital Connect train heading to King's Lynn along the Fen Line after passing the Ely North junction. Picture: Ian Burt

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Faster and more reliable trains were promised by rail bosses yesterday as a £2.2bn investment in the region’s train services was unveiled.

Around £1.4bn will be spent improving the rail link between the region and London over five years.

Network Rail chiefs expect the investment to make services more reliable and faster – and should pave the way to increasing capacity.

The company’s business plan for the Anglia route, which has been submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), will be finalised in October 2013, with projects beginning in April 2014 and lasting until 2019.

Network Rail Anglia route director Dave Ward said there were several challenges facing the region’s rail services including problems with capacity and journey times.

Estimates show that between 8am and 9am, the busiest hour in the morning peak period, the number of passengers on the Great Eastern main line heading to Liverpool Street is set to increase by 49pc by 2031.

Mr Ward said: “What we are looking at here is putting in place the building blocks that should make the network more resilient and make some improvements which we can work on over future years.”

MPs and local authorities have drawn up a manifesto for the main line which calls for trains from London to routinely reach Norwich in 90 minutes and Ipswich in 60 minutes.

But Mr Ward said the state of the track was not the main issue affecting journey times – it was ensuring that they had a clear run.

Level crossings north of Ipswich require trains to run at lower speeds and as part of the plans 154 level crossings will be upgraded.

Mr Ward said: “Many are part of rights of way that existed long before the railway was built, but we need to work with local people and local authorities to make changes to benefit everyone.”

The programme includes major improvements to Bow Junction, just south of Stratford station in East London, which should make the approach to Liverpool Street more reliable.

Capacity on the line to London could also be improved by moving freight trains away from the busy passenger route and onto the cross-country line. Most of the freight trains from Felixstowe are heading to the Midlands, north of England, or Scotland and there is no need for them to head to London.

Until now, operators have been reluctant to move their services – but during the Olympics, many freight services were moved off the main lines.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith (pictured) said the upgrades would have a “positive impact” on the Norfolk and Norwich economy.

She said: “Our campaign continues to secure the full improvements that we will want to see on East Anglia’s rail which will really bring jobs to Norwich and Norfolk by giving us faster journey times and more reliable services so that businesses will invest in our county.”

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Improving our rail infrastructure is critically important to supporting business growth in Norfolk and Suffolk. We are pleased to see that Network Rail is proposing some very significant improvements to the network. We will continue our lobbying for further improvements for the benefit of all rail users, which we will expect to see as part of the new Greater Anglia rail franchise.”

The improvements include a £25m upgrade to the Ely North junction which will increase the number of trains running from King’s Lynn to the capital and accelerate economic growth.

South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said: “The Norwich to Cambridge line will also benefit from this upgrade and will provide enhanced links through Thetford with the hi-tech industries and science parks operating in the region.”

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