Businesses frustrated by the quality of the Norwich to London train line

Does business want better railways? Herded on to a crowded train stopped in some unlikely spot, like Manningtree, where services can often inexplicably grind to a a halt, it feels like a 'no brainer', as you scramble from carriage to carriage back to your seat trying not spill your coffee.

Yet you might have more luck getting a personal gift from Santa than stepping on to the kind of swift, comfy locomotive found in France, Germany or – indeed – Holland.

However, it is in the Dutch we trust now that Abellio has the task of running our rail franchise next year.

We may not want continental-style employment laws but, let's face it, what would we give to have their trains – eurozone crisis and all?

But it is a tall order. Travel on a train out of King's Cross up to Cambridge and it's like being on a different planet compared to boarding at Liverpool Street.


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Tuesday's autumn statement saw little immediate help for our rail services, though improvements between King's Lynn and Kings Cross are on the cards, and the chancellor has agreed to fund the extension of the Northern Line in London and a rail link from Bedford to Oxford.

So there will be plenty to talk about when Norfolk and Suffolk MPs hold a summit this month with train operators, the business community and Network Rail to try and form a rail plan for the next two decades.

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But can we wait that long? What about commuters now, frustrated at the quality of service we have to endure as well as the rising fares?

Is the summit little more than hoping for jam tomorrow, and thinly spread jam at that?

To gauge the business view, the EDP invited Norfolk businesses to tell us what they think via the Linked In social networking site.

Rob Davies, managing director of oneonone communications, said: 'Getting the Norwich to London train down to one hour 30 minutes would make it that much easier to pitch and retain clients in the London area and for them to visit you.

'It's quicker to get to London from Manchester or York at the moment. Faster trains will help change the perception of Norwich as a backwater and reduce travel time, and therefore cost/fee times.

'Being based in Norwich means we could compete very favourably on price with London-based marketing agencies without them having to sacrifice quality or facetime. And we have to at least get a few trains with Wi-fi and sockets regardless of which class you travel.'

Peter Treglown, director at market- ing and design agency FOUR, agreed improvements were needed now.

'Not withstanding a very useful half hourly service and a welcome increase in patronage, the rail link to London has been getting worse over the last few years, with journey times to Liverpool Street now at nearly two hours,' he said.

'Since slightly more modern rolling stock has been introduced, reliability has improved but on-time arrivals in London still cannot be relied upon.

'With a road link to the capital still awful, a fast, efficient and comfortable train service is absolutely vital. Norfolk businesses with a lower cost base have so many opportunities in London. Similarly, we should be encouraging people to visit the county from London and invest in new jobs here.'

Elliott Summers, former managing director at Norwich International airport, believes a rail extension closer to home could yield benefits.

'At Prestwick Airport more than 30pc of passengers arrived by rail, some from as far away as Aberdeen, due to a low fares deal offering return travel from anywhere in Scotland for �5,' Mr Summers said.

'Therefore a direct rail link to Norwich airport would probably boost local tourism and business travel massively to the benefit of all. Similarly, a fast train link to London from the airport would potentially open up massive new markets.'

Perhaps a more radical alternative would be to simply put all the efforts into improving our broadband infrastructure, thus negating the need to travel in the first place.

Rachele Kelsall, a development executive at insurance firm Gallagher Heath, said: 'I'm not sure this can really be considered as an 'either/or' investment choice. We need a faster, more reliable rail service, but we also need quality broadband services.'

Caroline Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Chamber, agreed.

'I don't think it's either/or,' she said. 'It's the same pot, but different streams. We have already got the government money for broadband, we just need the private sector investors to take it forward. We are not going to get any private sector investors to take rail forward, so we need public investment with that. It's a major gateway into Norfolk. We've got the A11 and that's fine but people do still need to travel by train and we need reliability.

'We recently had some directors from the Treasury up here and they came by train and they couldn't believe the time it took.'

shaun.lowthorpe@archant.co.uk

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