Greater Anglia outlines key rail priorities to put region on fast-track to growth

Greater Anglia train on the Norwich to Cambridge route via Ely. (Class 170). Photo: Bill Smith

Greater Anglia train on the Norwich to Cambridge route via Ely. (Class 170). Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

Three key rail upgrades have been identified to put East Anglia on the fast-track to economic improvement – signalling an urgent, united effort from businesses and politicians to secure the investment.

Three vital rail upgrades have been identified to put East Anglia on the fast-track to economic growth – signalling an urgent, united effort from businesses and politicians to secure the investment.

Train operator Greater Anglia has written to 200 of its most influential stakeholders, urging them to make the case for desperately-needed improvements to the region's rail infrastructure.

The company has outlined priorities which could unlock capacity and boost journey speeds on the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) between Norwich and London, and the West Anglia route linking King's Lynn with the capital.

But overwhelming support for these ambitions must be proven within a limited window of opportunity, with a February 19 consultation deadline providing the last chance to influence Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan for 2014-2019.

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Greater Anglia's three priorities are:

1. 'Real improvements' to journey times and line speeds. On the Norwich to London route, the aim would be reductions of at least five minutes.

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2. Additional track capacity north of Chelmsford near the proposed new Beaulieu Park station.

3. Extension of the third track from Stratford towards London on the West Anglia route.

Stakeholders including MPs, local authorities, business organisations and user groups have been asked to write to Network Rail (NR), which owns and operates Britain's rail infrastructure, to include the upgrades in its 2014-2019 business plan.

But they must also convince the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), which must approve the plan, and the Department for Transport (DFT), which will ultimately fund it.

Ruud Haket, managing director of Greater Anglia, said: 'We are already doing what we can in the short term to upgrade services, and already making real progress in terms of punctuality and reducing the amount of disruptive weekend engineering work.

'But this is a vital chance for us all to try and secure the additional infrastructure enhancements on the GEML and West Anglia routes we all wish to see, sooner rather than later – to the benefit of customers, communities and the economy across our region.'

The push for funding comes ahead of Thursday's pivotal East Anglian Rail Summit in Westminster to discuss the next steps for the region's rail campaign.

An alliance of politicians, business groups and rail operators and users from Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire will meet to discuss the priorities laid out last year in the East Anglia rail prospectus.

The meeting will be chaired by Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who said: 'The golden thread that runs through this is that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to open up investment in our railways.

'We will discuss these items at the rail summit this week as part of the over-arching common campaign which seeks to get faster journey times as well as more reliable services, and a better quality of rolling stock.

'I am particularly interested in creating extra capacity north of Chelmsford because it means trains will be able to pass each other and that is what opens up the capacity along the entire line between Norwich and London, helping us to get faster journeys and a more reliable service all the way along the line. What is good for Essex is good for Norfolk, and vice versa.

'We are speaking with one voice across four counties to secure improvements on our railways in the long term. We are taken most seriously when we move together.'

Graham Plant, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for planning and transportation, said the authority fully supported the collaborative approach to securing rail upgrades.

He said: 'This is something we have been doing for some time now and I will be representing the county council in London on Thursday at a rail summit as we continue to work for better railways for Norfolk and the eastern region and help to shape future rail investment plans.'

The East Anglia rail prospectus says enhancements to capacity, line speed and service quality on the GEML could bring an extra £3.7bn to the regional economy, according to a report by transport consultants Atkins.

Chris Starkie, programme director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, which coordinated the East Anglia rail prospectus, said: 'We fully support Greater Anglia's call to lobby the ORR, DFT and NR so we can maintain the pressure for investment.

'A united front and joint message from all stakeholders are critical to secure the improvements we want to see.'

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, will also be at Thursday's summit to reinforce the business case for the upgrades. She said: 'Norfolk businesses needs improved rail infrastructure in order to create the economy and the resulting jobs which we are all striving for.'

NR's draft business plan already lays out a series of goals in the region including track renewals, bridge replacements and safety upgrades – but acknowledges the plan is 'being developed at a time of economic constraint, and so the make up of that plan has to be affordable for funders'.

Jonathan Denby, Greater Anglia's head of corporate affairs, said: 'It is a very competitive environment. Other regions will no doubt be making their case. We already know that in the North they have been lobbying for particular improvements.

'It is really important to get our case across because, if we don't, we won't be heard and there will be plenty of others who will.

'We have got a window of opportunity for us all collectively to influence the kind of upgrade which passengers will be able to see the benefit of in terms of being able to enjoy faster journey times and more seats by the end of this decade.'

Mr Denby said journey times could be improved by using higher specification track and better level crossings, which could allow trains to run faster and reduce their stopping times.

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