October 1 2014 Latest news:
By DAN GRIMMER
Thursday, October 4, 2012
A blueprint for desperately-needed improvements to the railways in Norfolk was unveiled today, calling for crucial track upgrades, faster trains, new stations and more frequent services.
MPs, councillors and businesses have drawn up the Norfolk Rail Prospectus to make the case to the government and the rail industry that Norfolk has been stuck in the sidings for too long.
They hope the document, which they insist is not a wish list but has genuinely achievable goals, can be used to put pressure on Network Rail and the companies which will be bidding to take on the franchises for the Greater Anglia and East Midlands two years from now.
The draft prospectus was unveiled at a meeting today and includes calls for:
Trains which get from Norwich to London in 90 minutes.
Services from Norwich to London, Norwich to Cambridge and King’s Lynn to London, via Cambridge, at least every half hour.
A target over the longer term for half hourly services on the Bittern Line and Wherry Lines.
Later last trains from London and Cambridge.
New stations at Postwick, Broadland Business Park and possibly at Rackheath.
Electrification of Norwich to Cambridge, Bittern and Wherry Lines.
All stations to be made fully accessible.
Longer trains between Norwich and Sheringham at peak times.
New or fully refurbished train carriages.
Extending the Norwich to Cambridge service to Stansted.
Continuing support for an East-West rail link, connecting Cambridge to Oxford.
Possible freight interchanges at King’s Lynn, Snetterton and Great Yarmouth.
The launch of the prospectus comes after a campaign by MPs, business bosses and council leaders, which led to the East Anglian Rail Prospectus earlier this year.
That document looked at the wider picture for East Anglia and the economic benefits which better train services would bring, but the Norfolk blueprint drills down into further detail.
Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, who made a speech at the public unveiling of the Norfolk prospectus, said: “We have a once in a generation opportunity to get it right for the long term in the region’s rail.
“That means jobs, because businesses will be able to grow with better infrastructure. We have achieved good progress so far through the East Anglian Rail Prospectus campaign, which I led to Parliament, and now is the time to focus again on Norfolk’s part of that.
“The Norwich to London line is a real priority because of the franchise process which is shortly to start. Over the next 20 years we want more reliable services, faster services, and better quality stock. We are passionate that Norfolk won’t be left behind.”
In July, the government announced that £25m would be spent upgrading Ely station as part of a £9bn package of rail improvements.
While that money was welcomed as paving the way for half-hourly services on the King’s Lynn to London service and Norwich to Cambridge lines, there was no mention of improvements to the Norwich to London Liverpool Street line.
Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, wrote to new transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin expressing the authority’s disappointment, while calling for future investment.
He said: “For too long Norfolk has been at the end of the line for rail investment, despite it being clear that improvements are needed to boost the county’s economic prospects.
“However, I believe that this picture is changing. MPs, local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships from across East Anglia have supported the vision for rail set out in the East Anglian Rail Prospectus, and it is becoming clear that the rail industry and the government is listening. We were extremely pleased that the government has included money for a crucial upgrade at Ely.
“While we have got their attention, we must go a step further and set out in detail what we hope and expect to see on railways serving Norfolk in the years ahead.
“Our prospectus will feed into ongoing government decision-making over the next few months. Crucial decisions will be taken about the five-year spending programme on track infrastructure, and government will be re-letting the franchises to decide which train companies run the services in and out of the county.
“These are major, important decisions that will shape the quality and frequency of train services for a number of years to come.”
One of the key elements of the blueprint is getting faster trains on the Norwich to London line, following on from the Norwich in 90 campaign launched two years ago.
That campaign, backed by the county council, appeared to have suffered a major blow in January when Network Rail revealed the potentially prohibitive price tag of replacing the single track, 26 metre long railway bridge at Trowse.
But, in the new prospectus, the commitment to Norwich in 90 remains, with a suggestion that re-timetabling services could avoid the need for costly work on Trowse bridge.
The blueprint also calls for Bow Junction on the approach to Liverpool Street to be remodelled and a new third track north of Chelmsford to overcome capacity issues on the route to London, with other improvements allowing trains to run at 110mph.
The document suggests it might be possible to tap into a £300m pot available from the government to fund journey time and performance improvements, to help speed up the trains between Norwich and London.
The Norfolk prospectus will go out for consultation following today’s launch at the King’s Centre in King Street, Norwich. It is expected to be rubber-stamped by the county council early next year. Council leaders say that will then enable them to work with the government, the rail industry and others to deliver the schemes outlined in it.
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