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‘Lessons learned’ from winter rail problems – transport minister weighs in on Suffolk and Norfolk delays

PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 June 2020

One of Greater Anglia's new Stadler Intercity trains crosses the Essex/Suffolk border at Cattawade near Manningtree. Picture: PAUL GEATER

One of Greater Anglia's new Stadler Intercity trains crosses the Essex/Suffolk border at Cattawade near Manningtree. Picture: PAUL GEATER

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Lessons have been learned from problems which plagued Suffolk rail passengers last winter, a transport minister has said – and vowed that commuters in the county will not suffer in the same way in future.

Suffolk County Council’s scrutiny committee and transport bosses wrote to the Department for Transport raising the issues of last winter on the county’s rail network.

Those problems included a near miss at a level crossing on the Norwich to Sheringham line when the barriers lifted just before a train reached the crossing, as well as signalling issues and the introduction of new Stadler trains on the line.

MORE: Watch shocking near miss at Norfolk crossing

In his response, transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris said the DfT had been in contact with both Network Rail and Greater Anglia over those problems, with particular regard to how the new trains interacted with the signalling systems.

In the response, he said: “We have highlighted to the rail industry the need to resolve this matter as swiftly as possible, whilst ensuring safety is not compromised in any way.

“I would like to reassure you that I expect the industry to learn lessons from these incidents, to ensure that passengers across Suffolk are not disrupted in this way in the future.”

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During last month’s scrutiny committee meeting, Greater Anglia’s Jonathan Denby told councillors that the new trains had to go through more tests after the near miss accident which led to a series of train cancellations, and software problems only cropped up after the trains had begun running. Testing had taken place before their introduction, he confirmed.

Issues had been ironed out by March with a reliable service running until the coronavirus changes.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) is yet to publish the findings of its probe into the near-miss crossing incident.

Councillor Alexander Nicoll, deputy cabinet member for transport at the council, said the winter problems had caused issues for thousands of passengers.

“That was one of the drivers for the scrutiny meeting, and not long prior to that I and officers at the county had already had a meeting with Network Rail and tried to go through this on the basis that we are all in this together,” he said.

MORE: Suffolk scrutiny committee probes winter rail problems

“Both Greater Anglia and Network Rail are anxious to avoid the PR disaster it caused [happening again].

“I was among those caught up in the problems and when you are spending the sort of money passengers are paying for rail fares, and planning your life and work around a journey, to get so thoroughly derailed if you will pardon the pun creates such a loss of confidence for people.”

Mr Nicoll added that he was disappointed that no indication has been given on when the RAIB report is due to come out.


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