March 9 2014 Latest news:
Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
There is a “sense of urgency” about improving rail services between London and Norwich, the rail minister has said following the first meeting of a new taskforce.
Stephen Hammond said he believed that getting trains to travel from Norwich to London in 90 minutes was achievable, but he did not want to raise false hopes that it would happen straight away.
He said: “One of the things I am acutely aware of is that announcements get made and then you say six months later ‘what on earth is going on?’”
But he said they had decided to get started before Christmas and good progress had been made at yesterday’s first meeting.
A working group had been set up to identify what needs to be done.
Mr Hammond said: “Quite a lot of this is not big stuff, but it is important stuff. For example between Shenfield and Norwich there are 91 crossings of the rail line. Either rail crossings or bridle paths. Addressing some of those things is important in keeping up the line speed.”
But he said there was also some work to do in looking at the possibilities for new rolling stock.
He said: “There is a sense of urgency and something is going on. I didn’t want to let time go by without starting it. There are still three or four more working days until Christmas so I thought we might as well get on with it.
“We need to do the work. Neither the chancellor nor I think the solution will be put in place tomorrow, but the sense is that it is achievable.”
He said it was too early to say what the timings would be, but admitted that much of the spending had been committed to between 2014 and 2019, and he did not want to raise false hopes.
“I really want this to set up so we can promise it and deliver it after the next control period.”
But he said they wanted Network Rail to deliver more for less, and do things more efficiently, which meant there might be an opportunity for action before 2019.
Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North, who led the East Anglian Rail Prospectus campaign on behalf of all MPs in four counties, and Mark Pendlington, transport lead of the New Anglia LEP, will co-chair the task force.
Ms Smith said the taskforce built on the work already done drawing up the East Anglian Rail Prospectus, and allowed for the business case and all the necessary detail to be drawn up to get people to “Norwich In Ninety”.
She said: “The first meeting was a strong start. You can’t get any infrastructure improvements overnight and so there is a lot of detailed work to do, which is a natural follow-on from the passionate campaign we have run to get this far.”
Mr Pendlington said: “Norwich in Ninety is our goal and detailed work has now begun on how best to deliver that. All ideas are welcome and we will be keeping everyone updated with progress. But for the moment, it’s so far so good.”
The working group will have its next meeting in January and the taskforce will meet in February.