Rail service improvements in East Anglia? You’ll need a boat to get to Great Yarmouth
- Credit: Archant
Green Party councillor Richard Bearman claimed investment was needed in ferry services amid the growing threat of global warming.
Commuters in Norfolk may soon need a boat to reach Great Yarmouth.
Councillor Richard Bearman, leader of the Green Party group on the county council, claimed investment was needed in ferry services amid the growing threat of global warming.
He was responding to a question about whether the rail network should be renationalised during a Question Time-styled event at Paston Sixth Form College in North Walsham.
A student who travels between the two Norfolk towns for her studies claimed rising fares, limited services and overcrowding on trains made the current system too expensive and unreliable.
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Councillor Bearman said: 'It is time to end rail in private ownership for profit and put it back in public hands. It's also time to reregulate the buses and do something about the bus fares which is a far more diverse form of public transport.'
But he added: 'What I would say about Great Yarmouth is do be careful because you might need a boat to get to Great Yarmouth if global warming carries on, rather than a bus or a train, and maybe think about investing in some ferry services.'
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Fellow panel member Stephen Burke, chairman of the North Norfolk Labour Party, agreed the rail service should be renationalised.
He branded the Bittern Line between Sheringham and Norwich as 'unreliable' and claimed more investment was needed in both trains and track, as well as a more integrated transport network where buses and trains linked.
But Councillor Bearman said: 'It's a pity Labour didn't support (Green Party MP) Caroline Lucas's rail nationalisation bill a bit more robustly when it came to parliament recently. We're actually doing something about it and putting a positive proposal forward but not getting the support we'd like to see.'
Mr Burke insisted renationalisation of the railway was one of the Labour Party's key pledges ahead of the next election.
'We need a reliable service,' he said. 'The Bittern Line is unreliable at the moment; it's even worse if you try to get further than Norwich – whether that's to Cambridge, Yarmouth or down to London.
'Investment in rolling stock and tracks and everything else needs sorted out. We have done it in the past we can do it in the future. It's an absolutely crucial part of this country's infrastructure.
'It's about having an integrated transport structure, the buses need to be invested in as well and integrated with the train service.'
East of England UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew claimed 'heads should roll' if the rail service fails to meet passenger expectations.
But he admitted he wasn't convinced that renationalising the rail service would solve all its problems.
Mr Agnew said: 'I'm old enough to remember them when they were nationalised and they didn't run very well. I remember when the Norfolk railway line from King's Lynn through Swaffham to Norwich was pulled up; and the one that went through Melton Constable, that was pulled up; I've seen a lot of railway lines pulled up, probably prematurely in some cases now because there is definitely the demand there for the railway lines.
'We did have a policy that we would try to reinstitute them but now if you look at these old lines they have gone back to farmland, or they've been built on, it just isn't that simple.
'At the moment it is franchised out to various companies and I think a head needs to roll. If somebody is sacked from running the franchise that will send out the message that if you don't do it properly you will suffer.'
But he added: 'I don't think nationalising it is going to improve it.'
Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, revealed he would like to see the rail service follow a mutally owned model, where everyone who has an interest in it doing well, including the passengers, have a stake in it – similar to the John Lewis Partnership, which is part owned by its employees.
But Conservative councillor Tom FitzPatrick, the leader of North Norfolk District Council, stressed the rail service was continuing to improve under privatisation.
'When the railways were privatised, passenger numbers were falling year on year on year and there was less and less investment. But passenger numbers over the years have really rocketed. At one time you could get on an InterCity train and the train was empty, and now the trains are full all the time.
'There are more trains running than there were 30 years ago, there is more investment in the railways and what's really important is to get a decent train service and I think we're getting there.'
But he added: 'No-one should be deprived of attending the right college for them simply because they can't afford to travel.'
Greater Anglia pointed out the Sheringham-Norwich line was one of the most punctual lines in the country but revealed it is working to improve reliability and rolling stock.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Jonathan Denby, Head of Corporate Affairs at the rail firm, said: 'We are working to build on the generally very good performance of Greater Anglia services on the Bittern Line - with annual punctuality of over 95 per cent, one of the most punctual lines in the UK - to make them even more reliable, as any delay is inconvenient to our customers.
'In addition, as part of franchise, the biggest ever investment in trains in East Anglia (worth £1.4 billion), will see all our current, one, two and three carriages trains used on the Bittern Line replaced by brand new three and four carriage trains in 2019/20.
'In the meantime, further investment is going into improving train performance and all stations will see ticket vending machines installed over the next three years. We are passionate about building on the ongoing success of the Bittern Line over the past 20 years, to make it even more successful in the future, working together with the Bittern Line Community Rail Partnership and local communities to take full advantage of the benefits a brand new train fleet will offer.'