August 1 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Rail passengers in East Anglia should see major improvements over the next 15 years with new trains, improved infrastructure and faster journeys.
That’s the view of the new managing director of Abellio Greater Anglia as the rail operator prepares to upgrade its InterCity trains over the next two years.
Jamie Burles recently took over the top job at the rail company – and is convinced that the region’s services are set for a transformation over the next decade and a half.
He said: “I think the fabric of the network in terms of rolling stock and the nature of the service will have changed measurably. Of course I want that to happen, but I also expect that to happen.”
He expected passenger numbers in the region to continue to grow – they have doubled since privatisation in the mid-1990s – but thought the growth might not be so rapid as the market matures.
Norwich MP Chloe Smith took rail minister Stephen Hammond to experience first-hand the service between East Anglia and London.
As leaders of the Norwich in Ninety taskforce which is drawing up the detailed business case for upgrading the region’s mainline train service, the she and Ipswich MP Ben Gummer explained the features of the infrastructure and carriages which limit the speed of the service.
The minister was travelling to Norwich to launch the Norfolk and Suffolk Growth Deal.
Miss Smith said: “We are making sure the rail minister understands what travellers face in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. It is clear that with a better service, we can get more businesses and jobs to come to our area and this is why we want better and faster trains. The taskforce we are leading is determined to get results for our area, but it’s a long project - which is why we have brought the minister to see the need first-hand.”
Mr Hammond said: “The Government has recognised the importance of reliable and fast rail links from and to East Anglia. The “Norwich in Ninety” taskforce is doing invaluable work in preparing the business case for the necessary investment.”
Abellio has just been given an extension to its short-term franchise which had been due to run out this month. It will now continue to run the region’s trains until the end of 2016 – but will give its InterCity carriages a major refurbishment as part of its extension deal.
However that will only extend the life of the trains until the early 2020s, at which time new trains are likely to be introduced.
The Department of Transport would decide over the next 12 months on the shape of the new long-term franchise which is due to kick in at the end of 2016.
Key to that would be the level of new investment required as part of the franchise, which would determine the standard of new trains to be ordered.
Mr Burles said the establishment of the task force of East Anglian MPs to press for improvements to the rail network was crucial to the attempts to improve services.
Both local MPs and the Department for Transport now accepted that this region needed a major upgrade.
The company had a key role in the discussions about running trains from London to Norwich in 90 minutes and Ipswich in 60.
“We are developing a coherent and cohesive voice that can influence the Department for Transport and politicians that Greater Anglia, the region, is overdue the type of long-term focus and investment that has been seen on other lines.
“Now it is our time for that.”
The region’s voice had been taken to government far more clearly over the last three years thanks to the lobby efforts of MPs led by Ipswich’s Ben Gummer and Norwich North’s Chloe Smith.
While progress was being made, the battle was not over: “There is still influencing and there is still lobbying to be done and that is the crucial role of these groups that have been set up because the job certainly isn’t done yet but it needs to be done.”
Mr Burles said the region remained vital to the nation’s economy, and it deserved to have a rail service that reflected that fact – it relied far less on public subsidy than most other parts of the network.
“We have to fuel that growth and fuel that success but that does require investment that has a big pound sign in front of it, but we believe it is the region’s time for that.”
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