MPs ready to tell Network Rail and minister about their train concerns
PUBLISHED: 08:18 04 December 2015 | UPDATED: 08:45 04 December 2015
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The delayed £35m track upgrade which could see more trains from King’s Lynn and Norwich to Cambridge is a “tiny amount” in the government’s vast rail budget, an MP has said as he urged a rethink.
Henry Bellingham, who has been part of a group of MPs running the rule over the government’s multi-billion-pound High Speed Two project, said the upgrade would unlock permanent improvements across the region and was only a small amount in the scheme of what is being spent in the system elsewhere.
He spoke as neighbouring MP Elizabeth Truss is due to meet Network Rail and the train operator Govia, which operates the trains between King’s Lynn and London King’s Cross to press them on when passengers will get half-hourly services off-peak after the upgrade setback.
Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman said: “Despite huge extra investments in rail infrastructure by the government, Network Rail has said it needs to delay Ely works because of cost inflation on other major projects. That’s why we met the secretary of state last week to urge the DfT to look again to see if Ely can be sorted sooner.
“This is another example of why we need a stronger voice for East Anglia through devolution; to make the case for key regional infrastructure like this.”
Call for longer trains
A retired signaller has backed Network Rail’s plans to double the length of peak time trains between King’s Lynn and Cambridge.
Keith Leedell, who worked at a signal box in Watlington for 17 years, has said the way forward was to extend platforms at Watlington, Littleport and Waterbeach to accommodate eight-car trains. He said this was a far better option than the proposed half-hourly service, which could be pushed back to at least 2019.
Mr Leedell, 67, said: “They need to look at what is achievable in the short term, not what is ideal in the long term. They have got trains, they have got the drivers, it wouldn’t be a problem for train companies. It’s another option they should be looking at. If they could run these eight-carriage trains it would be a huge help. I am not sure why they think a half-hourly service is what we need.”
The former signaller, who said passenger numbers had shot up over the past 10 years, said if rail users wanted to get a particular train they would get on an overcrowded carriage rather than wait for the next one.
Network Rail is currently undertaking development work on a scheme in a bid to tackle overcrowding and will report back to the Department of Transport with its plans next spring.
Ms Truss said the meeting today was an opportunity for Network Rail to present the programme of works and to obtain clarity on the implementation of the half-hourly service on the King’s Lynn to London line.
In Norwich, rail passengers’ “grim” experiences on east coast services will be spelled out to rail minister Claire Perry, who will hear from one of the city’s biggest employers how vital the region’s rail link is for the area.
The transport minister will visit insurance giant Aviva, which employs 5,000 people in the city and in the last 12 months spent about £900,000 on about 16,000 staff rail journeys between Norwich and London – an increase of £200,000 in spend compared to 2013.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who has organised the visit, said she would be explaining what the service had been like recently, when about 160 rail services were cancelled between Great Yarmouth and Norwich, and the problems it could cause for travellers.
“I am bringing the rail minister to hear first-hand from some travellers in the city what they need from our rail service,” she said.
“The Department for Transport has been crystal clear in the new franchise document that we deserve new trains and we also have the necessary commitment from Network Rail to get on with required works. I will be telling the rail minister what this means to people in Norwich.”
An Abellio Greater Anglia spokesperson apologised to customers for the recent problems which resulted from poor rail conditions.
How could the rail links be improved? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk
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