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Norfolk’s Pipe Dreams: How we hoped Eurostar could speed us from the city to Paris

PUBLISHED: 14:00 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:39 21 September 2018

A Eurostar train. Pic: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

A Eurostar train. Pic: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Archant

Over the years, many weird and wondeful ideas and schemes have been announced but never came to pass. In the first of a new series, Norfolk’s Pipe Dreams, DAN GRIMMER looks at when there were hopes Eurostar could come to Norwich.

Passengers can catch Eurostars at London St Pancras, but not at Stratford International. Pic: Anthony Devlin/PA WirePassengers can catch Eurostars at London St Pancras, but not at Stratford International. Pic: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Picture this. You’ve just arrived, suitcases in hand, at Norwich Railway Station. You grab a coffee, a snack and (obviously) a copy of your local newspaper.

You glance at the departure boards. There’s a train leaving for Great Yarmouth at 8.36am, one going to Sheringham at 8.45am and one for Lowestoft at 8.56am.

But those aren’t your destinations. You’re heading towards that sleek-looking grey, yellow and blue train on the far platform. The one marked as leaving for Paris at 9am.

Back to reality. We’re still waiting to get to London in 90 minutes, let alone being able to hop on the Eurostar to head off to France.

But in 2007, there was a genuine hope that Eurostar could run to and from Norwich - or at least be a short walk away from the Stratford stop.

It was a time when the Liberal Democrats were in control at City Hall. These days they have a group of three and Labour are firmly in control with 31, so that’s a reflection of how long ago we’re talking about.

The council’s then leader, Hereward Cooke had tabled a motion calling on the city council to agree to join forces with other authorities up and down the rail line between Norwich and London.

The idea was that a united front could help to see cash pumped into improving the route, and in particular to investigate the possibility of extending the Eurostar line along it.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith. Pic: Eliza Boo PhotographyNorwich North MP Chloe Smith. Pic: Eliza Boo Photography

Rev Canon Cooke, who was a priest and industrial chaplain, said at the time: “The main line between London and Norwich is of crucial importance, yet is often seen as a Cinderella line with secondhand stock and a lack of investment.

“We are proposing that the Norfolk Rail Alliance co-operates with all the councils along the route right down to London to lobby for a better service.

“The Eurostar is going to run from St Pancras from next month, but we know in due course it will also use Stratford station.

“That could provide East Anglia with a wonderful opportunity to make use of that link and connect to Europe.”

Hereward Cooke, former leader of Norwich City Council. Pic: Natasha Lyster.Hereward Cooke, former leader of Norwich City Council. Pic: Natasha Lyster.

If it sounds a tad far-fetched that a Eurostar service could run directly to and from Norwich, then yes, it probably was.

A spokesman for Eurostar said back then: “We support the growth of high-speed travel and regeneration benefits have been shown in France and will be shown in the UK once St Pancras opens.

“But Eurostar does not build or maintain track, so whether a direct link to Norwich will be made I cannot say.”

But the real point Rev Cooke and co were making was that only if all those communities dotted along the London to Norwich came together would anything happen to improve rail services.

And Rev Cooke, who died in December 2009 while at the Copenhagen climate change summit with the charity Christian Aid, was right.

The years since have seen concerted efforts to get speedier trains running between Norwich and the capital.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith brought together Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire to sign up to a common East Anglia Rail Prospectus.

And the Great Eastern Main Line taskforce has been meeting to continue to press for a better rail service.

Under the next franchise for the line, Greater Anglia will have to introduce at least two 90 minute services in each direction between Norwich and London every day.

The rail giant is investing £1.4bn in 1,043 new carriages which will replace its current 30-year-old fleet towards the end of 2020 and allow those 90 minute journey times.

But, if and when Norwich in 90 becomes a reality, that Eurostar connection will still remain out of reach.

Stratford International Station, where Rev Cooke was hopeful Eurostar services would run from, opened in 2009.

Just a stone’s throw away from the Stratford stop on the Norwich to London train line, it would be a short walk across to catch the Eurostar.

Yet, despite its name, no international services call at the £210m station.

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