Norwich rail improvements on the way as franchise extension confirmed

PUBLISHED: 07:05 16 April 2014

Library picture of a Greater Anglia train run by Abellio.  Photo: Bill Smith

Library picture of a Greater Anglia train run by Abellio. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2012

Major improvements are on the way for rail travellers on the main line to London with government confirmation that Abellio Greater Anglia will run trains for another two years.

As part of their franchise extension, the Dutch-owned company will refurbish all the InterCity carriages used on the main line to London.

As well as being repainted, they will be completely refreshed internally.

New seat coverings and carpets will be fitted. New wi-fi will be installed, and electricity plugs to enable owners of mobile phones or computers to recharge their devices will be installed at all seats. New lighting will be installed.

Tanks to collect effluent will be installed below all the carriages – ending the practice of dumping waste on the track.

As well as the InterCity carriages, Greater Anglia will also oversee the updating of many of the electric units used on commuter services in Essex and up to Ipswich.

The Class 321 units will have accessible toilets and wheelchair spaces installed for the first time.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, part of the ‘Norwich in 90’ Taskforce campaigning for a quicker train service from London to Norwich, said: “This shows that we are delivering on a better rail service for our constituents. Alongside long-term improvements coming from the Norwich in Ninety taskforce, this announcement gives us some of the important things that passengers need, straight away. In the short-term and the long-term we are working hard for a better, faster and more reliable rail service for our constituents. Better infrastructure will bring more jobs to Norwich over time.”

The improvements to the carriages will make journeys more comfortable, but Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said this would not be a long-term solution to the region’s rail needs – in the long term there would be a need for new trains.

Mr Gummer, a member of the task force looking at improving services on the Great Eastern Main Line, said: “These improvements are very welcome and work has already started on updating the carriages.

“But the upgrade is only for six or seven years. After that new legislation will mean the carriages have to be taken out of service. The doors are not being rebuilt would be needed if they were to continue after then.”

The upgrade is a clear signal from the Department for Transport (DTp) that when the new long-term contract for the region starts in October 2016, the winning bidder will be expected to outline proposals to introduce new trains on the main line.

The announcement about the new franchise extension for Abellio was made to the London Stock Exchange first thing this morning. The franchise extension runs from July this year until October 2016.

Meanwhile new figures from the Office for Rail Regulation show that rail users in East Anglia receive one of the lowest government subsidies in the country.

Abellio Greater Anglia had to pay the DTp 19pc of its revenue – but 29pc of the cost of running the infrastructure was met by the government, meaning that overall the taxpayer funded 10pc of the region’s rail services.

East Anglia’s trains are some of the oldest on the network – the average age is 25.5 years and is getting older as no new vehicles will be coming in before 2016 at the earliest.

Another major finding from the survey is that 44pc of Abellio Greater Anglia’s passengers travel on season tickets – that is a similar proportion to other suburban services around London.

And the announcement of the improvements to services in East Anglia comes as Witham MP Priti Patel, another member of the task force, has written to new managing director of the rail company Jamie Burles to discuss concerns felt by Essex travellers.

She said she hoped to discuss the needs of Essex commuters as Abellio considers whether to bid for the long franchise which is due to start in two and a half years’ time.

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Andy Russell

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EDP motoring editor, journalist who loves wheels and engines but hates cleaning them.

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