Rail cable work being brought forward

Multi-million pound work which could end years of misery for commuters on the Norwich to London line will be brought forward to next year, it was confirmed yesterday.

Multi-million pound work which could end years of misery for commuters on the Norwich to London line will be brought forward to next year, it was confirmed yesterday.

The company in charge of the nation's rail network was due to begin the £200m scheme in 2009 but as a result of a series of major delays - which included passengers being stranded for up to six hours on one occasion - the overhead cable work will instead start Christmas 2007.

Network Rail bosses made the announcement during a public grilling by Norfolk MPs Ian Gibson, Norman Lamb and Richard Bacon in Norwich.

The select-committee style inquiry, which also included the managing director of One Railway Dominic Booth, was organised following a string of problems this year.

Tough-talking Dr Gibson, MP for Norwich North, said of One: "You might report that standards are up but that is not enough because the facts don't gel with people's experiences.

"I have a deep feeling that I can't trust you to get me to where I want to go on time."

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Problems with overhead power lines were blamed for three days of disruptions at the end of August and into September, resulting in commuters facing hours of delays.

Jon Wiseman, route director of Network Rail, said: "Plans for significant investment in renewing the overhead lines on the Great Eastern route have always been in the pipeline - initially from 2009 onwards based on asset condition.

"Now we have pushed to get that work moved forward and I can confirm it will now start at Christmas next year and the first phase between Liverpool Street and Chelmsford will continue up to the Olympics in 2012."

One chiefs insist that punctuality on the London mainline had risen to about 88pc from 83pc since the start of the franchise in 2004 and that service frequency on that route has rise to 70 trains each weekday.

The trains have also been modernised with a £25m investment programme but when pressed by Mr Bacon on the punctuality of specific peak time services year on year, Mr Booth said he needed to look up the figures.

"It is a standing joke that whenever there is a timetable change London gets two minutes further away from Norwich," said south Norfolk MP Mr Bacon.

"I have had a letter from one constituent who said he allowed an extra two hours travelling time to get to an important meeting but was still delayed so that he had to forfeit the meeting and lost the contract."

Mr Booth agreed the company could do better and had a range of projects under way.

He said: "We are not - and never will be - complacent about service levels and recognise that it is passengers' perceptions of our service which are paramount."

> GNER yesterday denied claims that the government had stripped it of the franchise to operate services on the East Coast Main Line because of a financial crisis engulfing the parent company.

Bosses said they had a joint agreement with the Department for Transport that will see GNER continue to run the service under a management agreement while a competition to find a new franchisee takes place.