Passengers ponder minister's rail pledge

Train passengers in East Anglia were left wondering last night how much of the government's promised multi-billion pound investment in the railways will be spent in this region.

Train passengers in East Anglia were left wondering last night how much of the government's promised multi-billion pound investment in the railways will be spent in this region.

Transport secretary Ruth Kelly yesterday unveiled firm plans for a £5.5bn cross-London Thameslink scheme, a £425m redevelopment at Reading station and a £128m project at Birmingham New Street station.

But it was unclear whether some of the money promised to relieve bottlenecks will be spent improving the capital's congested Liverpool Street station - the last stop on the Norwich to London line - and whether any of the promised 1,300 new carriages will ease overcrowding on busy East Anglian commuter routes.

One thing was clear: passengers will foot the majority of the bill.

Ms Kelly revealed that at present fares account for about half of rail revenue but by 2014 this figure will have risen to about 75pc.

There were also calls last night for the rural network not to be sidelined in the investment plans.

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Christopher Fraser, Tory MP for South West Norfolk, said: “This government has made many similar promises in the past but has failed to deliver the right results,” he said.

Publishing the transport white paper, Ms Kelly said the aim was to produce a railway capable of carrying double the number of passengers and twice the amount of freight by 2030 - with a network and trains matching the best in Europe.

“Our railway is flourishing and in this white paper we show how we will grow and develop the network for decades to come,” she said.

“Passengers want not only more capacity and reliability on their trains but also more modern stations, simple and efficient ticketing, quality of service and value for money. They're right to be so demanding and this strategy can deliver what they want.”

Some of the plans were welcomed in this region, such as a pledge that there would be no rural line closures over the next seven years.

Peter Lawrence, the Norfolk-based president of the independent campaign group Rail Future, said simplifying the fare system and tackling overcrowding were good news for rail users but was disappointed that the East/West rail link was not part of the white paper.

“If we had that we could avoid people having to travel through London, it is an important route and one we have been fighting for for many years,” he said.

The watchdog was concerned about possible fare increases to foot the bill.

Mr Lawrence said: “If we want people not to fly and go on the train instead, obviously fares have to be cheaper and if they increase it is going to deter people from the rail - it is something we will keep an eye on,”

The white paper envisages an increase in capacity to cope with growth of 22.5pc on the railways by 2014 by which time there should be a target reached of a 3pc reduction in the risk of death or injury to passengers and rail staff and a 25pc reduction in delays of more than 30 minutes.

In the longer term the government is envisaging a doubling in capacity over 30 years with intercity express trains entering service in 2015, starting on the East Coast and Great Western main lines.

Jonathan Denby, One Railway spokesman, said: “Today was always going to be an overarching picture. Our view is that we welcome the statement which makes it clear that the government has identified the railways as an area in need of investment.

“Some of the investment in 150 stations across the network is likely to be felt in East Anglia and we will submit our bid to ensure our fair share of the 1,300 carriages come our way.”

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