East Anglia rail plan given backing of Government paving way for new trains

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

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

MPs and business leaders hailed a win for their better rail campaign as the chancellor said he would 'do what it takes' to get faster trains between East Anglia and London.

Writing for the Eastern Daily Press, George Osborne said he had seen for himself the old trains and low average speeds on the Great Eastern Main Line.

His significant intervention will ensure that the next private company to win the contract to run the line is likely to be forced to provide fresh trains.

The Department for Transport has already asked Network Rail to continue developing improvements to the speed of the line over the next few years.

Network Rail has said it already has its plans in place for work to the track, signals and overhead lines to achieve the faster, more reliable services set out by a taskforce formed a year ago.

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It is estimated the work needed will cost £460 million.

And George Osborne said that 'starting now', he would be demanding that private operators who want to bid for the right to run the route when it comes up for renewal come up with clear plans to make services faster and better.

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'That means things like a fresh fleet of trains and work on the track. And we will pick the bid that is best for East Anglia,' he added.

The Department for Transport will start drawing up a contract, known as a franchise agreement, later this year.

Greater Anglia is the second least subsidised railway company in the UK, receiving only 1.5 pence per passenger mile, against a national average of 12.5 pence per passenger mile.

The level of investment for Great Eastern Main Line services is disproportionate to the costs that commuters and passengers pay.

Last month shadow chancellor Ed Balls said an incoming Labour government would honour any commitment to upgrade the main rail line from London to East Anglia.

There had been fears that any major investment of that size could be lost if a change of government at next year's general election sees priorities change.

Local Enterprise Partnership bosses and MPs have worked with the Department for Transport and Network Rail officials to draw up the blueprint for improved rail links, which has now been 'backed' by the chancellor and Department for Transport.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: 'I'm delighted that we have won the campaign.

'This is what I've fought for over years and what I've recently led the taskforce to get, along with my co-chairman, representing business as head of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

'The chancellor is agreeing with us that we need better rail in East Anglia and is committing to the series of actions that will bring it about. This is a fair deal for East Anglia and for the thousands of passengers who backed our campaign.

'It stands to bring 8,000 more jobs to Norwich and many more throughout the region. It has only come about through a lot of hard work on behalf of everyone who uses the trains in our area.'

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP and co-chairman of the GEML Taskforce, said it was 'another vote of confidence' in the future of our region. 'The voices of many thousands of rail passengers and businesses across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex have been heard, loud and clear.

'The priority now is to make sure that we have momentum and that passengers begin to see improvements to the standard of service as soon as possible,' he added.

Will this signal a new era for the Great Eastern Main Line? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk

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