MPs call for rail improvements

Network Rail and the region's main train operator will be hauled before ministers unless services and the safety of passengers are improved, three Norfolk MPs warned last night .

Network Rail and the region's main train operator will be hauled before ministers unless services and the safety of passengers are improved, three Norfolk MPs warned last night.

In a hard-hitting 40-page report, MPs Richard Bacon, Ian Gibson and Norman Lamb set out the changes they want One Railway and Network Rail to make on the Norwich to London line.

The report, seen by the EDP, calls for "outdated" rolling stock to be upgraded, amid concerns that last month's Virgin train derailment in Cumbria would have resulted in more deaths if the carriages now used by One were still in use.

And in the wake of last week's accident at Swainsthorpe, south of Norwich - which saw a motorist killed on a level crossing - the MPs also demanded that Network Rail carry out an urgent review of automated half-barriers at crossings on all 100mph train lines.

But both One and Network Rail declined to comment on the report until they had studied it in detail.

The report calls for:

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Several 'rapid' trains to run at peak times calling at only Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester and London;

The right for passengers who are forced to stand because of overcrowding to take available seats in first class "with no questions asked";

Tougher penalties and more publicly-available information when the government holds train operating companies such as One to account;

Documentation in carriages to let passengers know what contingency plans are in place when things go wrong - and announcements should be made as soon as there is a problem rather than when it is fixed.

Publication of the report followed a public grilling of Network Rail and One officials in November by the cross-party trio of MPs after overhead cable problems led to delays on the line.

At that meeting, Network Rail said it would bring forward a planned £40m investment from 2009 to this December.

In their report, the MPs welcome this investment, but warn: "The management at Network Rail must get their house in order and act quickly to prevent further problems on the line."

The report - by Dr Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, Mr Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk, and Mr Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk - conclude: "Passengers would probably have a great deal more sympathy for both One and Network Rail if the two were honest about the problems they are facing and the efforts they are making to resolve them.

"Let the two companies be in no doubt, though, we have serious doubts about their ability to maintain a reliable service, and if there is a continual series of delays, we intend to visit [ministers] to discuss their franchise arrangements."

The MPs also vowed to put pressure on Norwich City Council after hearing that plans for a second electronic ticket machine at Norwich station were being held up by the planning process.