The great rail rip-off: ‘Bad deal’ on subsidies for East Anglian passengers

Norwich Railway Station

Norwich Railway Station - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

The 'bad deal' received by East Anglian rail commuters has been laid bare in new statistics which show the subsidy per passenger mile on Abellio's Anglian routes amounts to just 3% of that received in some other parts of the country's rail network.

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Commuters have called for a level playing field amid figures which show that last year, the region's railways received back just 1.5p per passenger mile, compared to 51.5p for the area of northern England covered by Northern Rail.

Under the current system, operators such as Abellio pay 'premiums' to the Department for Transport, which then allocates money back to regions in the form of grants to Network Rail, to improve and maintain the infrastructure in different parts of the country.

Calculations by the Department for Transport show the area covered by Greater Anglia receives less per passenger mile than other operators which have services running into London, including Southeastern, Virgin and First Great Western.

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Last year, Greater Anglia paid a premium of £196.3m for the line, with a grant of £201.9m coming back to Network Rail in this region. By contrast, Southeastern, which has commuter lines into London, paid in a premium of £20.5m, with £237.5 paid to Network Rail, for improvements in its area.

The government also hands money to operators which run less profitable lines – to subsidise services in remote areas – and can also pass money back to companies, if they do not earn as much money as expected.

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Northern Rail, which is not required to pay a premium, received £172.1m from the government, alongside £352m in Network Rail grants for its area.

Ron Strutt, a regular user of the line from Diss, said Norfolk residents were getting a 'very bad deal'.

'We are saddled with old rolling stock, delays, and a lack of proper service. The staff try very hard but there's a limit to what they can do.'

Michael Windridge, who lives in Fritton and commutes between Norfolk and London each week, said: 'I cannot recommend an overall increase in subsidy, but I am staggered to learn about the scale of discrepancy between other regions' rail subsidies and our own. Commuters in Norfolk and Suffolk need to start lobbying hard for a more level playing field.'

Mark Pendlington, chairman of New Anglia LEP, which is leading the Great Eastern Rail Campaign, said: 'We know that the Great Eastern main line has suffered from years of under-investment and our trains are some of the oldest on the network with the average age of around 25 years. These latest figures also show that while our region's trains have among the highest passenger miles they receive one of the lowest subsidies. All of this strengthens our case for much greater investment, which is why we are campaigning hard to gain support from passengers across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and provide government with a robust business case in the autumn.'

But a Department for Transport spokesman said: 'Subsidy and premium differ across the UK, even at a regional level, because of variations in demand and costs with some busier services requiring less government support.'

A Network Rail spokesman said: 'By 2019, we will have rebuilt key junctions, renewed overhead power lines and upgraded signalling, with all the regions trains being controlled using state-of-the-art technology from our new control centre in Romford.'

• Should the government be doing more to improve 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

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