Analysis: Rail upgrade at Ely North Junction will help Norfolk benefit from the Cambridge effect
Ministers yesterday paved the way for half-hourly trains on the King's Lynn to London and Norwich to Cambridge lines, as funding to ease a key bottleneck was included in a �9bn package of rail improvements.
Confirming the widely-expected announcement at Ely station, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the �25m upgrade at Ely North Junction would enable the rest of the region to benefit from economic growth around Cambridge.
But passenger groups and rail unions reacted angrily to the news that the improvements would in part be funded from fare increases.
Mr Lansley said work on designing the upgrade could begin immediately, while funding would be included in a five year programme of rail investment due to begin in 2014.
Launching the �9bn so-called High Level Output
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Specification programme, Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: 'Investment on this scale in East Anglia and the rest of the East shows how this coalition government is focused on delivering an affordable, reliable and faster railway network that drives jobs and growth.
'These plans to increase capacity and shorten journey times on intercity, commuter and freight services are, alongside our plans for high speed rail, absolutely key to securing our country's prosperity in the decades ahead.'
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South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who joined Mr Lansley at Ely station to announce the junction improvements, said: 'The dualling of the final section of the A11 started the momentum, now our rail networks will help drive the economic engine forward.
'We have the superb innovation clusters round Norwich and Cambridge, fabulous food and farming. The Brecks are developing a strong tourism brand, and from the Fens across to Thetford, South West Norfolk has hi-tech and engineering companies with a global presence all of which will benefit from today's announcement.'
Ms Truss added while the work meant trains will be able to run half-hourly between King's Lynn and London, and Norwich and Cambridge, the extra services needed to be specified in the franchise agreement governing whichever company ends up running trains on the routes after autumn 2013.
Now that government funding had been secured for Ely North, she said the priority would be the electrification of the Cambridge - Norwich line.
'If you look at how electrification drove traffic on the Fen line that's what we need on the Norwich to Cambridge line,' she said.
Mr Lansley said more frequent trains would enavble to whole region to benefit from the boom in hi-tech industries around Cambridge.
'If you want growth in the economy, you have to invest in success,' he said. 'And Cambridge is a success.
'There's a strong technological connection between Cambridge and Norwich. When you look at East Anglia, you have some great technology for the future and we have to invest in that.'
West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock said the Ely North upgrade would address 'historically low transport investment' in his constituency.
'Preparation is due to start immediately, and building will start in 2014,' he said. 'I know this will be welcomed by my constituents in Brandon who will finally have access to the kind of rail service they deserve, that can connect the town twice an hour to the rapid growth and jobs in Cambridge, and move the town forward.'
There were no major announcements for the Norwich to London line but Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership last night both agreed it was not cause for panic.
They said the key development for that route would come in the autumn when the Department for Transport sets out a specification for the next rail franchise.
Chris Starkie, programme director for the New Anglia LEP, said improvements set out in the recent Prospectus for East Anglian Rail were never expected to be included in this latest announcement but the government's Crossrail plans and the possibility of improvements being made to the Bow Junction during this spending period did offer some hope for the Norwich to London line.
Mr Starkie joined others in welcoming the news of the Ely junction upgrade.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: 'Ely junction is particularly important to unlocking the potential of the Cambridge-Norwich 'innovation corridor' and the growth of a vibrant small company economy, and ensuring the planned housing growth in Wymondham, Attleborough and other towns on the line doesn't lead to gridlock and congestion.' Norwich North MP Chloe Smith added: 'The Ely North investment is a crucial early element of the East Anglian rail improvements which we need for the next 20 years.
'It opens up many lines including for business investment, freight and leisure passengers.
'The campaign continues to secure accompanying longer term improvements on the other key lines through East Anglia, such as the Norwich/London mainline.'
Derrick Murphy, Norfolk County Council leader, said: ' This is excellent news for the wider Norfolk economy and West Norfolk in particular.'
Ruud Haket, managing director of train company Greater Anglia, welcomed the news on Ely North Junction, adding: 'It is important all of us who care about the region's railways and its wider prosperity continue to make the compelling case for rail investment in East Anglia, building on the tremendous news about the improvements for Ely Junction.'
Ministers said the package would be funded 'in part from fare rises already announced in 2010 and also from the substantial efficiency savings which projects like electri-fication will have on the long-term operating costs of the railways'.
Regulated fares are set to rise by inflation plus 3pc in January 2013 and January 2014.
Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staff's Association, said: 'Motorists do not face higher taxes when new roads are built and rail passengers should not face even higher fares when new lines are built.'
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: 'Pricing people off the railways will mean many passengers simply won't be able to afford the benefits this investment will bring.'