Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Chancellor George Osborne has set his sights on getting trains to run from Norwich to London in 90 minutes.
During a visit to the region this afternoon he said he was setting up a taskforce, which will include Whitehall transport officials, MPs and Network Rail experts - to work out the details of how journey times could be reduced between the East of England and the capital.
It is thought the project will cost around £550m and will involve putting in a loop at Chelmsford, changes to the rolling stock and incremental speed improvements along the line.
The taskforce’s job will be to identify practical and affordable options to improve services to Norwich and will include examining the potential for cutting the journey time to London by around 30 minutes and how getting to ‘Norwich in Ninety’ could be achieved under the new franchise due to start in 2016.
In the shorter term, the Department for Transport has also asked current operator Abellio to develop plans to refurbish and modernise the current fleet, update interiors and provide improved facilities, such as power sockets so commuters and business travellers can work more easily as they travel by train.
No extra money from the Treasury has been pledged for the project and some measures are expected to be included in the franchise agreement for the line from 2016 and are also expected to form part of infrastructure company Network Rail’s spending plans for 2019 to 2024.
In 2012 a coalition of MPs, politicians and business leaders joined forces in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex to launch the document Once in a generation - a Rail Prospectus for East Anglia, making the case and setting out demands for the region.
It builds on the Norwich in 90 campaign by the former partnership Shaping Norfolk’s Future, Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council and Norfolk Chamber of Commerce launched in 2010.
Addressing the Norwich Chamber this afternoon, Mr Osborne said; “East Anglia is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and is establishing itself as a world leader in science, technology and manufacturing. To support this growth we need to have modern, efficient rail services and improved connections.
“I am absolutely behind the region and that’s why I’ve set up the East Anglia Rail Taskforce to see how we can build on the excellent work by Chloe Smith, Ben Gummer and Priti Patel and set our sights on getting to ‘Norwich in Ninety’.”
Norwich MP Chloe Smith said: “Having led the East Anglian Rail Prospectus campaign, this is a great reward for the campaigners who have called for years for faster, more reliable and better trains.
“Norwich in Ninety has always been my top priority because it will bring more jobs to Norwich. I am thrilled today to have been able to help bring this investment about for my constituents.”
New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership managing director Chris Starkie, who was involved in the campaign for Norwich in 90 which was launched before the 2010 election, said: “Some said we are never going to get Norwich in 90, but the minister who controls the country’s finances has endorsed it now. That is significant progress.”
Earlier in his visit to the region, the Chancellor was handed a pair of wellington boots and a hard hat for a tour of the former fire station in Bethel Street, Norwich, which is in the process of being transformed into the Sir Isaac Newton Free School sixth form.
He spoke with bosses from construction firm Willmott Dixon about their apprenticeship scheme and paused during his tour of the site to speak with young workers. He was accompanied by Chloe Smith – and he reserved special praise for the Norwich MP’s Norwich for Jobs campaign.