The great rail rip-off: ‘Bad deal’ on subsidies for East Anglian passengers

Norwich Railway Station Norwich Railway Station

Annabelle Dickson
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
11:19 AM

The “bad deal” received by East Anglian rail commuters has been laid bare in new statistics which show the subsidy per passenger mile on Abellio’s Anglian routes amounts to just 3% of that received in some other parts of the country’s rail network.

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What the politicians say...

-Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP and lead for the Great Eastern Rail Campaign, said it was “not right and not fair” that rail franchises in most other parts of the country received a much greater subsidy per passenger mile than the Greater Anglia franchise which had much older rolling stock and a line which has suffered years of under-investment.
“We have suffered under-investment for decades and that’s why I am campaigning so hard to get the better service we deserve.”
She also said she would be asking questions of Network Rail and the train operator, and telling them how angry her constituents are about the repeated disruption. 
“This is disgraceful and entirely unacceptable. It’s not good enough to have a repeated letdown like this,” she added.
“It hurts people who are simply trying to get to work on time or are going about their other daily business.”


-Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich, repeated his call from two weeks ago for heads to roll at Network Rail, saying: “It is clear that someone is not 
doing their job properly. Whoever that is needs to be replaced by someone who can do the job.”


-Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey said she had been in contact with Network Rail director Richard Schofield to convey her frustration at the poor service. 
She said: “He apologised for the delay and has promised to investigate why the works overran and what they intend to do to address it. I have 
asked to see the incident report.”


-Jessica Asato, Labour candidate for Norwich North, said: “Clearly the Great Eastern rail line needs significant investment. Labour’s new organisation would ensure that national investment goes where it is needed most. A Labour government would also legislate to allow a public sector operator to take on new lines and challenge the train operators on a level playing field.”

Click here to view the graphic

Commuters have called for a level playing field amid figures which show that last year, the region’s railways received back just 1.5p per passenger mile, compared to 51.5p for the area of northern England covered by Northern Rail.

Under the current system, operators such as Abellio pay “premiums” to the Department for Transport, which then allocates money back to regions in the form of grants to Network Rail, to improve and maintain the infrastructure in different parts of the country.

Calculations by the Department for Transport show the area covered by Greater Anglia receives less per passenger mile than other operators which have services running into London, including Southeastern, Virgin and First Great Western.

Last year, Greater Anglia paid a premium of £196.3m for the line, with a grant of £201.9m coming back to Network Rail in this region. By contrast, Southeastern, which has commuter lines into London, paid in a premium of £20.5m, with £237.5 paid to Network Rail, for improvements in its area.

The government also hands money to operators which run less profitable lines – to subsidise services in remote areas – and can also pass money back to companies, if they do not earn as much money as expected.

Northern Rail, which is not required to pay a premium, received £172.1m from the government, alongside £352m in Network Rail grants for its area.

Ron Strutt, a regular user of the line from Diss, said Norfolk residents were getting a “very bad deal”.

“We are saddled with old rolling stock, delays, and a lack of proper service. The staff try very hard but there’s a limit to what they can do.”

Michael Windridge, who lives in Fritton and commutes between Norfolk and London each week, said: “I cannot recommend an overall increase in subsidy, but I am staggered to learn about the scale of discrepancy between other regions’ rail subsidies and our own. Commuters in Norfolk and Suffolk need to start lobbying hard for a more level playing field.”

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP, which is leading the Great Eastern Rail Campaign, said: “We know that the Great Eastern main line has suffered from years of under-investment and our trains are some of the oldest on the network with the average age of around 25 years. These latest figures also show that while our region’s trains have among the highest passenger miles they receive one of the lowest subsidies. All of this strengthens our case for much greater investment, which is why we are campaigning hard to gain support from passengers across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and provide government with a robust business case in the autumn.”

But a Department for Transport spokesman said: “Subsidy and premium differ across the UK, even at a regional level, because of variations in demand and costs with some busier services requiring less government support.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “By 2019, we will have rebuilt key junctions, renewed overhead power lines and upgraded signalling, with all the regions trains being controlled using state-of-the-art technology from our new control centre in Romford.”

• Should the government be doing more to improve the Great Eastern main line? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

9 comments

  • Ingo wagenknecht is right. Norwich in 90 is not sustainable whatever Network Rail does (commendably) to the infrastructure and whatever (less commendably) politicians who have no influence with DfT say. When HSTs were introduced in the late 70s there were some exciting timings to start with. You could get from Paddington to a car park north of Bristol in little over an hour, but so what? After a bit, the timetable settled down to a reliable service, just as a consistent 100 to 105 minute trip to Liverpool Street could. For service improvement, how about some REAL competition by upgrading Norwich-Ely and letting East Coast or First Capital Connect (or their successors) run a through service? Incidentally, to conflate the separate issues of maintenance overruns, old (but still fast and comfortable -try stowing luggage in a Pendolino) trains and subsidy levels is hardly the way to inform the readership responsibly about the complexities and realilities of the privatisation model, which after 20 years has yet to settle down. However, glad to see that after my last comment a few days ago the photographers are getting out more.

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    MGNdweller

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

  • Chloe touting for votes next year!!

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    beverley

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • So Chloe Smith is whingeing about the subsidy for rail travel in the East of England. Did she not think to keep a beady eye on the subsidies when they were granted and make strong objections then? She's been knocking around Norwich for five years now and we are only just hearing from her now. Goodness gracious me anyone would think that there is going to be an election soon. Oh hang on a mo'. What's that you say?

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    alecto

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • Well done EDP for exposing the truth. The situation is outrageous, here we are in the 21st century and yet we have a hopeless rail link to London. What are the Norfolk 9 MPs doing about it? Plenty of talk, NO ACTION. And minimal chance of anything happening now the next election is 9 months away. This government was a unique opportunity, all Norfolk MPs were in power and had the best chance to improve the situation for Norfolk people. They have let us down badly.

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    Lord 'Elp-Us

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • George Osborne and Chloe Smith remain silent on whether "Norwich in 90" is in fact a 90 day tour of East Anglia, a week in Diss,fortnight in Stowmarket,and so on.Whatever it means,it is not going well and no amount of PR spin can make it otherwise.

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    Peter Watson

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • Norwich 90 is a pipe dream which will not be realised and Chloe should be realistsic enough to admit it. Forever positive news Inc. who is promoting her every step should realise this as well, as little humilit will go a long way. Whether this will stop UKIP candidates making hay next year is totally up to the Tories. And three cheers to an Independent Scotland since we never talk about it....;)

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    ingo wagenknecht

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • So they got more out (£201.9m ) than they paid in (£196.3m ). Where's the issue?

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    expat

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • There is nothing new with this situation. Back in the days of British Rail, the Norwich Line has always been profitable, with the income being used to subsidise non-profitable routes. Needless to say, there was little expenditure on our rail links. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives were better than each other for trying to remedy this.

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    broadsman

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

  • Chloe Smith has been banging on for years about wanting improvements but for all her comments in the EDP nothing has happened. She's been an MP since 2009, her government have been in since 2010. We can't go on like this.

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    Jeffrey Osborne

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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