Will these rail plans deliver?

At last, an announcement of much needed investment in our railways - but is it a case of heard it all before? Environment correspondent TARA GREAVES reports.

At last, an announcement of much needed investment in our railways but is it a case of heard it all before?

Environment correspondent TARA GREAVES reports.

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They say that trains are our future; that, if we want to mitigate climate change, we will have to rely ever more on public transport.


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And while rail passenger numbers are clearly on the up, the government has, so far, failed to see that if you want to prise the hardened car lover away from his steering wheel it will take more than superficial changes.

Now, after 10 years of empty promises, is this latest announcement from transport secretary Ruth Kelly “the most ambitious plans for expanding the railway for 50 years” or simply more talk without action.

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On the surface, it could seem the latter where East Anglia is concerned.

No firm commitments about easing our congested trains; no large chunks of money to improve our stations and no pledge for a much-needed East/West Crossrail link.

Some commuters may think back to the heady days of 1997 and John Prescott's promise of a brave new dawn for the railways and, with a weary shrug, think they've heard it all before. Nice words, nice sentiment, but it'd be nice to see some action.

But all hope is not lost - at least not yet.

Jonathan Denby, One Railway spokesman, said: “We were never expecting them to say if you are a passenger on the Norwich to London mainline you can expect this and this.”

Firmer details are expected, perhaps in the coming months, with hope that some of the 1,300 promised carriages will trundle along east lines and that stations in this region will be among those touted for upgrades.

Mr Denby said One will certainly be stating its case for a fair share.

What is highlighted is the go- ahead for the long-delayed £5.5bn north-south cross-London Thameslink project.

There will also be a £425m improvement at Reading station in Berkshire and the government will contribute £120m towards improvements at Birmingham New Street station.

Government plans also include wanting companies to increase the number of trains running on time from the present 88pc to 92.6pc by 2014.

And for anyone who has ever tried to book a ticket (online or otherwise) there was good news.

The government is now working with the rail industry to introduce a new simplified fares structure in which there will be just four types of ticket - anytime, off-peak, super off-peak and advance, with the anytime fare being the most expensive.

Ms Kelly also pledged that season tickets and book-in-advance saver fares would continue to be regulated until 2014, which means they cannot rise annually by more than 1pc above the inflation rate.

The moves are welcomed by Peter Lawrence, the Norfolk-based president of the independent campaign group Rail Future.

“At the moment there are regulated and unregulated fares and trying to buy tickets is quite a jungle because each operator has its own system of fares as well as

the regulated ones,” he said.

“If we care about climate change, and want people to get on to trains instead of taking flights, rail fares also have to be realistic.”

And yet Rupert Read, transport spokesperson for Norwich Green Party, said: “There can never be a joined-up railway service in Britain until the railways are re-nationalised. So long as there is a fragmented mess of profiteering private companies running our trains, they will never be up to speed.

“Given the looming challenge of dangerous climate change, it is desperately urgent for Britain's railways to come up to the standard of other western European countries, so that they offer a really strong alternative to the more climate-dangerous transport modes of road and air. Without re-nationalisation, which would enable the investment and the holistic planning that the railways need, the British railway system will remain a second class option. None of us can afford that.

“It beggars belief that trains from London to Norwich take longer now than they did in the days of steam.”

While re-nationalisation is perhaps a discussion for another day, Dr Read makes a good point - the railway is not usually a first choice. And it needs to be.

But are the planned measures in the white paper enough to make it so? They say the devil is in the detail - and at the moment that is exactly what we do not have.

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