ANALYSIS: Chancellor’s visit takes rail campaign a step closer, but what next?

George Osborne at the Norwich Railway Station. Picture: Denise Bradley

George Osborne at the Norwich Railway Station. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

The Chancellor hailed the launch of a rail 'taskforce' to get trains from Norwich to London in 90 minutes. Political editor Annabelle Dickson asks what this means, and when and if commuters will see tangible benefits?

The chancellor would not have come to Norwich if he were not serious about rail improvements, I was told repeatedly yesterday.

He was making a strong statement about how serious he was about this.

'I promise you we are taking this deadly seriously now,' he said. But he did not bring a firm commitment that this will actually happen, or a blueprint of how.

And until there is a firm plan and contracts signed in black and white, the more sceptical will say this is just more empty words.

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Of course, the MPs will argue it takes time. Network Rail operates in 'control periods' – five yearly budgets which are set in advance.

And with many other rail schemes around the country vying for money, the lobbying case has to be made.

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There is no doubt that we are a step closer than we were two years ago.

The second most senior politician in the country has acknowledged the economic benefits of investing in our rail – which nobody denies has been seriously overlooked for many years.

Of course, official channels must be followed. Civil servants have to prove the taxpayer is getting value for money – even if we are in no doubt about it in the region.

Faster Norwich to London trains will boost East Anglia's economy by £2.5bn, a report by GEML Vision Group, published in 2012, found. It calculated that around £395m was needed to revamp the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML), and provide more services per hour, extra seats for passengers and ensure trains travel at speeds of at least 110mph by 2031.

It is thought that new tracks will need to be built at Chelmsford, costing around £150m, with other improvements along the line costing about £200m.

That will have to be found in the rail infrastructure company Network Rail's budgets. This could happen between 2018 and 2021, straddling two budgets.

New trains, costing about £200m, are expected to be part of an agreement with whoever wins the franchise. These could come in 2019 and 2020.

And in the shorter term the Department for Transport is urging current operator Abellio to refurbish and modernise the current fleet, update interiors and provide improved facilities.

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