Improvements on bottleneck Ely railway junction could begin in 2020
- Credit: Ian Burt
MPs and officials were told improvements to a major bottleneck on the region's railways could begin in three years' time.
South West Norfolk MP and Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss chaired a rail summit at Downham Market Town Hall yesterday.
It was attended by MPs, the New Anglia and Greater Cambridge and Peterborough local enterprise partnerships and Network Rail.
They heard a task force led by West Norfolk council hopes work on the Ely North junction could be included in the next round of funding for major rail projects, which runs from 2020 - 2029.
Ms Truss said: 'There is a really strong political will to get this done.
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'We are competing with the rest of the country so we need to get ahead of the queue when there are other projects in the country.
'It is in all of our best interests to get this started and nail down the funding programme so network rail get cracking on with the job. It is complicated but infrastructure is absolutely necessary to get right.'
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Network Rail said hopes to increase the numer of trains going through the junction from six to 11 an hour.
Other planned improvements include eight-carriage trains, platform expansions and level-crossing assessments.
But the biggest challenge will be designing the infrastructure which could see some parts of the railway blocked once the work begins.
A total of £8.8m has been put towards the feasiliblity plan which Network Rail has described as a complex scheme.
Both the New Anglia and Greater Cambridge and Peterborough local enterprise partnerships have agreed to put £3.3m while the Freight Network is contributing £2.2m.
Officials have said the proposed plans will see a £500m boost to the East Anglia economy and see half-hourly trains from King's Lynn to London. Before the summit got under way, one MP said the region's ageing rail network left people 'cut off from opportunity'.
Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: 'Ely junction is the bottleneck holding back our entire East Anglian economy, forcing passengers and freight onto our congested roads by preventing rail expansion.
'Our area is home to some of the most exciting new companies, jobs and opportunities but an old-fashioned, fragmented and under-funded rail network is holding us back and leaving people cut off from the opportunities.
'Our rail network is fundamental to spreading opportunity to all in the east. The Prime Minister is determined to build an economy that everyone has a chance in. We are committed to a new east - west rail link, but we need to clear the Ely junction to allow it to run.'
Improvements to the junction were originally expected to cost £35m.
Work was due to start this year. But a review published in 2015 postponed the upgrade for up to seven years.'