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Disruption on the King’s Lynn to London line was ‘sorry chapter’

PUBLISHED: 19:19 11 December 2018 | UPDATED: 19:46 11 December 2018

A Great Northern train leaves Downham Market Picture: Ian Burt

A Great Northern train leaves Downham Market Picture: Ian Burt

Disruption suffered by rail passengers between King’s Lynn and London this summer was “a sorry chapter”, councillors heard tonight.

A report to West Norfolk council’s regeneration and development panel said between July and November, there were 194 cancellations on the Fen Line.

The briefing was compiled by Ray Harding, the council’s chief executive and Peter Jermany, its principal planner.

Mr Harding said: “It shows how reliability as well as journey times has deteriorated. It was a sorry chapter in railway history.”

Mr Harding said a design contract had been let over lengthening platforms at Waterbeach and Littleport, which would allow eight-carriage trains, instead of the current four to serve Lynn.

He said a final investment decision would be taken by the secretary of state in February 2019.

Mr Harding said discussions were still ongoing on how best to solve delays on the network caused by the Ely North junction, which would allow half-hourly services between Lynn and London. He said a £9m study had been funded by enterprise agencies and an outline business case was on track to be completed by spring.

Mr Harding said: “We need to focussed, we need to keep pressing the case and wherever there’s slippage we need to clear any blockages out there. We need to ensure our scheme is shovel-ready before other people’s are.”

Mr Jermany said the Ely area improvements would not remove all of the constraints affecting the Lynn - London line.

He added a £1.5m study had been agreed in to the feasibility of re-opening the Wisbech - March line.

Mr Jermany said the council needed to continue to press the case for improvements with other parties, along with agreeing “common aims” such as increased reliability, longer trains and shorter journey times.

He said twin track all the way to the capital and 12-carriage trains should be a clear long-term strategic aim.

Introducing the report, panel chairman Peter Gidney said: “This item is so important to King’s Lynn, it’s just as important as any other regeneration issue. We can’t under-estimate the effects of this on the local economy.”

Figures from the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR) out earlier showed King’s Lynn was the third busiest station on the Fen Line last year, with 988,498 passenger visits. But numbers fell by just over 9,000 - 1pc year on year.

Tonight’s meeting comes after the train company running the King’s Lynn to London line was hit with sanctions and ordered to spend £15m on service improvements after botched timetable changes brought chaos to the network.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said it was holding Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to account for its role in the disastrous May timetable upgrade.

GTR owns Great Northern, which operates the line from King’s Lynn to London King’s Cross, where travellers suffered a string of delays and cancelled trains.

The DfT said the disruption showed that “significant change” was required in the rail industry.

Earlier, councillors heard that tourism was worth more than £540,000,000 to west Norfolk’s economy. But Lynn’s tourism offer came under fire.

Chris Crofts said the town was not user-friendly when it came to attracting coach parties and the town was not on major coach companies’ websites as a suggested tourist destination.

And Judy Collingham challenged councillors to come to spend a day in the town to see how little there was to do.

“You would be fairly bored after an hour and a half,” she said. “We have heritage buildings and we don’t do anything with them.”

Mrs Collingham also said the town’s shopping offer did not attract those who shopped as “a leisure pursuit”.

Elizabeth Watson said the town should promote its historic more than the shopping, adding: “let’s face it, the shopping’s not good.”

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