December 12 2013 Latest news:
By RICHARD WOOD
Friday, December 7, 2012
It runs for less distance than a lap of an athletics track.
But a 390-metre length of railway track that opens on Monday is set to bring a significant boost to towns in Waveney.
Commuters and tourists across the region will benefit from hourly trains between Lowestoft and Ipswich, when a new timetable is brought in, after the re-opening of a second platform at Beccles and a new stretch of track.
The town’s disused platform has been overhauled while the track, called the Beccles Loop, has been laid as part of a £4m scheme, jointly funded by Network Rail and Suffolk County Council.
It will allow trains to pass at the station, combating the problem of a 16-mile stretch of single-rail track between Halesworth and Oulton Broad, and increasing trains during the day to hourly rather than a two-hourly service, Monday to Saturday.
It is a move that the East Suffolk Travellers’ Association (Esta), a local voluntary body for public transport users, has requested for more than 20 years, and one that chairman Trevor Garrod believes will bring the most frequent service on the line since the early 1960s.
He said: “Esta has campaigned since the late 1980s for increased capacity on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line. We are therefore delighted that Beccles loop has been constructed and that our line, in common with practically all other rural lines in East Anglia, will now enjoy an hourly service.
“It makes the area more accessible and also enables trains to provide a better alternative to driving down the A12.”
Mark Bee, Suffolk County Council leader and Beccles councillor, said it will be important for the region.
He said: “It will open up the east coast in a way that has not been for some time and I personally am looking forward to using it on my trips to Ipswich, as you can get more work done on a train than in the car.”
He added: “Suffolk County Council has plans to look at faster trains to Ipswich and eventually looking to restore a through train to Liverpool Street and to continue to improve, the railway stations, particularly Beccles.”
Waveney MP Peter Aldous said it was a “significant first step” for the line, with hopes for further improvements.
He added: “It is very good news and is the first step to improving the rail service for Lowestoft, Beccles and Waveney. It will improve transport options for domestic, business and tourism.”
However, he said that he was keen to see further work done to improve stations in Lowestoft and Beccles, with better connections to bus services. He also wanted to see work done to improve the speed of the trains, with a Lowestoft to London direct service restored.
The work began in April, and has been part of a £21m Network Rail project to resignal the East Suffolk Line.
Dave Ward, Network Rail route managing director, south-east, said: “This investment will make a huge difference to people living in the area and is part of our wider plans to build a better railway.
“Enabling more services will mean that people living along the East Suffolk Line will be better connected to the main line.”
Greater Anglia has also been investing in improving stations along the line, with automatic ticket machines to be installed at Beccles, Saxmundham and Woodbridge.
Ruud Haket, managing director for Greater Anglia, which runs the service, said: “The introduction of the new hourly frequency of service on the East Suffolk line will help in providing a boost to tourism and the local economy, improving the travel opportunities for rail passengers in Suffolk.”
Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey agreed that the move would be a boost to businesses across the area, and hoped it would attract more tourists.
She said: “The opening of the Beccles Loop is fantastic news for east Suffolk. A regular timetable with hourly trains in both directions to include Darsham, Halesworth and Brampton will benefit residents, commuters and tourists visiting the area. The hourly service will also improve links to Ipswich and London for Suffolk Coastal businesses, giving a boost to the whole area.”