£150m plan for East Anglian rail network

CELIA WIGG A £150m spending programme for the East Anglian region was yesterday unveiled by Network Rail. The improvements are part of a £2.4m two year upgrade of the network across the country that will see hundreds of platforms extended, new platforms added, new tracks laid, line speeds raised and capacity added through major re-signalling schemes.

CELIA WIGG

Rail passengers travelling between Norfolk and London could see shorter journey times and less disruption after Network Rail yesterday unveiled a £150m spending programme for East Anglia.

The improvements are part of a £2.4m two- year upgrade of the network across the country that will see hundreds of platforms extended, new platforms added, new tracks laid, line speeds raised and capacity added through major resignalling schemes.

In the Anglia region, one of the major initiatives is a £50.1m scheme to renew and improve overhead power lines between London's Liverpool Street station and Chelmsford, on the main Norwich to London line.

This is designed to reduce the number of breakdowns on the key intercity route, and was last night welcomed by Peter Lawrence, of the pressure group Rail Future.

Delays on the Marks Tey to Colchester section should also be reduced. Network Rail is spending £3m installing bi-directional signalling at the stretch, which is one of the busiest sections in the UK.

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This allows trains to be switched to the alternative track if a train breaks down or maintenance work is needed - the upgrade already having taken place in other areas.

The company is investing another £50.1m

on re-signalling between Colchester and Clacton, with the aim of making journeys more reliable, and £4.7m on gauge clearance between Ipswich to Ely so larger containers can be transported.

This will provide an alternative route for freight, particularly from Felixstowe, and is seen as a real boon for the region's economy, while at Norwich £200,000 is being spent on additional siding electrification so trains can put on extra carriages at peak times.

Mr Lawrence said: "I think the overall package is good and, with these improvements and what we have seen in recent weeks, it suggests Network Rail is on the right track.

"There will still be people complaining that not a lot is happening, but I think we now have an organisation that is seriously trying to address the problems that are outstanding on the railways.

"I particularly welcome the Liverpool-Chelmsford scheme. The overhead lines urgently need to be replaced, and doing that will obviously improve the punctuality and reliability of the service through the journey. "

Adrian Gunson, chairman of Norfolk Rail Alliance, was equally pleased by the news. But he added: "I would have liked to have seen improvements to the track at Trowse Bridge and the dualling of track south of King's Lynn, on the London line."

There was also disappointment for campaigners calling for a passing loop on the line at Beccles, which is not featured in the programme.

Unveiling the plans, John Armitt, Network Rail's chief executive, said: "For the first time on record, over £1bn a year will be spent on expanding the growing railway network."

Rail operator One last night welcomed the announcement, saying: "We look forward to working with Network Rail and their partners in exploiting the key benefits of these improvements through the delivery of better and more reliable train service performance for our customers, and in the provision of future capacity enhancements for a growing railway."