Call for better rail links and new stations to boost Norfolk and Suffolk

Trowse Swing Bridge. Date: 14 June 2020. Picture: Mike Page

Trowse Swing Bridge. - Credit: Mike Page

Better train links between Norwich and Cambridge, including half-hourly services and opening new railway stations, are crucial to stop rural and coastal communities being left behind, MPs have said.

Fifteen Norfolk and Suffolk Conservative MPs have written to transport secretary Grant Shapps urging him to prioritise East Anglian links to and from Cambridge as part of the government's "levelling up" agenda.

Grant Shapps, who has resigned amid allegations he failed to deal with allegations of bullying withi

Transport secretary Grant Shapps. - Credit: PA

In the letter, MPs bemoan the "appalling" links between Norwich, Ipswich and Cambridge, which they said stopped East Anglia fulfilling its economic potential - and left rural and coastal communities behind.

They said the regional lines had been "neglected" for too long and that trains were key to getting people off the roads - particularly given the hundreds of thousands of new homes which will be built in the region in the decades ahead.

Greater Anglia’s brand new trains have been on their first outing on the Norwich to Cambridge route.

MPs want to see half-hourly train services between Norwich and Cambridge. - Credit: Archant

They said better connected rail services from Norwich and Ipswich to Cambridge, and all the stations and stops in between, were "by far the quickest way to achieve the 'levelling-up'".

The MPs said that the 52 railway stations across East Anglia were "neglected and/or abandoned", but should be being transformed and turned into "growth hubs of regeneration".

Wymondham railway station

Wymondham railway station - Credit: Archant

They said that could even pave the way for new stations to be opened "in due course".

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Their letter states: "Norwich and Cambridge are both world leading (and rapidly growing) innovation hubs that are key to unlocking and levelling up the vast economic potential of East Anglia.

"Little more than 50 miles apart, the infrastructure connecting them is poor in comparison to other regions across the United Kingdom – meaning it takes far too long to travel between the two, with the services currently on offer, slow, infrequent and running on old lines that have seen little investment from Network Rail for decades."

Cambridge University buildings, (front to back) the Grand Courtyard of St John's College, Trinity Co

MPs say better links between Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich will reap economic dividends. - Credit: PA

The MPs said that, having spoken to Greater Anglia, the rail company viewed half-hourly services between Norwich and Cambridge and Ipswich and Cambridge as "a key aspiration for the next franchise period".

Key issues holding back speedier services in Norfolk are the Ely North Junction and Trowse Swing Bridge.

The East Norwich development - which would see new homes built on the former Colman's factory site, the Deal Ground and the Utilities Ground - hinges on changes being made to the railway bridge at Trowse.

That, leaders said, was an opportunity to make that bridge double-track, which would speed up services.

And the letter to Mr Shapps from MPs states: "Vitally important improvement projects like Ely North Junction, Trowse Bridge and Haughley Junction will naturally play a significant role in making this all possible.

"The Ely North Junction upgrades would open the possibility of an additional service – which really should be looked at in the context of Cambridge-Norwich and Cambridge-Ipswich, as opposed to Cambridge-Peterborough."

The MPs called for a meeting with Mr Shapps, department officials and representatives from Network Rail and Greater Anglia.

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

MP George Freeman. Picture: Matthew Usher.

George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk, said: "Half-hourly services between Norwich to Cambridge and Ipswich to Cambridge would be major steps forward as we look to unlock growth to build back better, and get East Anglia well and truly on the road to net zero.

"We passionately believe that, by better connecting our ‘Golden Triangle of Growth’, the East can be at the forefront of the ‘Green Revolution’ – generating the jobs, prosperity and net zero progress that will make all of our lives better."

A Greater Anglia spokesperson said: “We share the aspiration to run more frequent services between Norwich and Cambridge and between Ipswich and Cambridge.

"However, these changes will require investment in significant infrastructure upgrades and then further additional investment in the operation of the additional services.

"We will continue to work with partners and wider stakeholders to help build the business case for these improvements.

“We are already working closely with Network Rail to transform the railway in East Anglia and further improve journeys for passengers.

"The new trains we have introduced on the routes from both Norwich and Ipswich to Cambridge are longer, more comfortable, more environmentally-friendly and helping to deliver a more punctual service.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We know that investing in our network will support economic growth and sustainability across Anglia while providing an excellent service for our passengers.

"We’re working on ways to accelerate the delivery of schemes like Ely and Haughley to help realise these benefits.”