Stations in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire see increase in numbers

Figures have revealed a dramatic surge in the number of people travelling through train stations in East Anglia – with an increase of more than a million visits compared to four years ago.

The latest footfall statistics have recorded a 4pc rise in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire with 25,946,739 visitors in 2007/08 growing to 26,973,66 in 2010/11.

At King's Lynn station alone, numbers soared by 20pc from 680,230 in 2007/08 to 821,772 in 2010/11 – an increase of more than 140,000.

Meanwhile, at Norwich station, there was a massive 8pc increase of nearly 300,000 extra visits from 3,449,928 in 2007/08 to 3,749,474 in 2010/11.

Campaigners have hailed the rise as a strong move towards greener transport triggered by the rising cost of fuel prices and increased traffic congestion on the roads.

But MPs in Norwich and Kings Lynn have called for increased investment, better facilities and improved services connecting East Anglia to London in order to meet the growing demand of people using rail travel.

The figures released by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) measure the number of entries and exits at a station by adding all the journeys starting at the station, and all journeys terminating at the station.

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A spokesman for rail provider Greater Anglia said the rising numbers were positive and expressed their commitment to making a case for improving rail services from Norwich.

South-West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss is battling to ensure the Fen Line has a bright future.

Ms Truss said: 'King's Lynn and Downham Market are both easily within commutable distance of Cambridge and London by train and this probably explains why over the last 10 years the number of passengers in West Norfolk has rapidly increased.

'The focus at the moment is to get the frequency of train services increased because it would drive economic growth in the area.

'I am pushing for half-hourly trains and for an investment of �25m to upgrade the junction north of Ely. We could have this and see real economic growth along the Fen Line.

'There is no doubting the Norwich/London line improvement needs to happen but the Fen Line has a lot of potential and with only a few tweaks it will make a good rail line great.'

Stations in Thetford, Great Yarmouth and Cambridge have all experienced a spike in visitor numbers.Thetford station saw an increase of more than 30,000 from 212,576 in 2007/08 to 242,756 in 2010/11.

Great Yarmouth station recorded 11,607 more visits from 416,713 in 2007/08 to 428,320 in 2010/11.

Elsewhere, Cambridge station saw a boost of more than 1.2m visits from 6,997,883 in 2007/08 to 8,245,416 in 2010/11.

But Beccles station saw a small dip in numbers over the past three years from 84,989 in 2007/08 to 83,762, while Cromer station also experienced a decrease from 181,546 in 2007/08 to 178,778 in 2010/11.

Bruce Williamson, spokesman for Railfuture, an independent rail campaigning group, said: 'What is interesting is that we have seen a consistent rise in the use of rail in the last 15 years. It is important that we meet that demand so we do not see overcrowding on our railways.

'But with the soaring price of oil there is a good reason why people see rail travel as such a sound investment.

'The rise in footfall is possibly down to people wanting to be more green, or the rising cost of fuel, or rising traffic congestion.'

Andy Tyler, the Fen Line Users' Association secretary, welcomed the figures, which he claims demonstrate a need for improvements to the Fen line.

He said: 'We are absolutely delighted with these figures but we are not surprised because it's a successful line.

'We have always made the point that the Fen Line is growing and will continue to grow with developments around Cambridge and King's Cross and new houses being built near stations along the Fen Line.

'This is why we are in favour of improvements to the line including possible new faster and comfortable stock and improvements to the Ely North junction which will enable there to be a half-hourly service.'

The footfall figures released by the ORR do not record the number of people who travel on trains and can also record people who visit to pick up passengers in a car.

But they do provide a strong indication of people's travelling trends.

Speaking about the increase at the Norwich station, Bert Bremner, Norwich City Council portfolio holder for transport, said: 'It's a very good sign. The more people use it the better for the environment.

'We are hoping the new Dutch franchise will be able to make changes, obviously in the short term they can't.

'It is also a sign that the need for good public transport is there.'

Meanwhile, MPs in Norwich have used the figures to press their case for improvements to be made to the Norwich rail service and the station.

MP for Norwich South Simon Wright said: 'Rail travel is a massive success story seeing record numbers of train passengers, which has a big impact for Norwich as a major rail hub.'

He added: 'I would like to see better storage for bikes if people choose to cycle to the station, and electronic signs informing people of bus times throughout Norwich.'

MP for Norwich North Chloe Smith said: 'These figures show that Norwich station is a real asset to the city. I want to see better reliability, faster journey times, and better infrastructure on our lines between Norwich and London.

'These figures emphasise a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to get it right.'

Chris Starkie, programme director of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, is convinced the figures will improve the region's case to the government when it comes to securing improved investment in rail across East Anglia.

He said: 'These figures make interesting reading and shows the importance of rail to our local economy.

'Routes and lines such as King's Lynn to London and Norwich to Cambridge, where there has been an investment in services, have shown rapid growth in station user numbers. We believe that further improvements, with newer, faster and more reliable trains coupled with improved infrastructure, will see these figures grow even more.'

A Greater Anglia spokesperson said: 'The increases in visitor numbers in these figures reflects the positive growth seen in the demand for rail travel in many parts of the region over recent years.

'We are working closely with Network Rail, the region's MPs, local authorities and other key stakeholders in making the case for further improvement to train services in Norfolk and the region.'

COMMENT – Pages 30

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