New rail lines for the north, but not in East Anglia

Greater Anglia Intercity train

Greater Anglia has introduced new trains - but the track has not been upgraded. - Credit: Paul Geater

On the day that the government promised £96billion to boost rail services in the north and midlands, politicians have warned it not to forget the desperate need for track improvements in East Anglia.

More than eight years after Network Rail agreed to make improvements to the region's tracks as part of a major boost to train services, none of the promised enhancements have happened, and only one is in a formal programme.

Now the MP who heads up the The East Anglian Rail Taskforce has vowed to keep up the pressure - but has warned: "We're not the economic powerhouse they have in the north!"

The East Anglian Rail taskforce was set up in 2013 under the joint leadership of Norwich North MP Chloe Smith and then Ipswich MP Ben Gummer to get better train services on the main line between Norwich, Ipswich and London. It had the backing of then Chancellor George Osborne.

Taskforce launch

The Launch of The Great Eastern Rail Campaign back in 2014 on Ipswich Station Jonathan Denby, David Burch, Chris Starkie, Chloe Smith and Ben Gummer. It brought new trains to the region - but the track is still as it was. - Credit: Lucy Taylor

There were two strands to the campaign - to get new trains in the region and to make track improvements to allow them to be used to their full potential.

The new trains are now in service, and by the end of next year Greater Anglia should be running an all-new fleet.

But none of the major track improvements highlighted have yet been completed and only two are firmly in Network Rail's proposals.

Earlier this year the current members of the Taskforce produced a document showing a comparatively modest investment in the region's lines - in comparison with the billions promised to the North and Midlands.

Current Taskforce chair Giles Watling presented a copy of the report to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, but so far it has led to no new investment proposals.

Giles Watling with Rishi Sunak

Giles Watling lobbied Rishi Sunak for support for East Anglia's rail network. - Credit: East Anglian Rail Taskforce

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Mr Watling said: "We just have to keep bashing away at this. There are things that need to be done on this line - improving Bow Junction (just outside Liverpool Street), new track near Chelmsford.

"But we're not the economic powerhouse they have in the north. We just have to carry on making our case."

Mr Watling is frustrated that the "levelling up" agenda appears to be ignoring major investment that is needed in East Anglia: "I have the most deprived ward in the country in my constituency but we have to really struggle to get the support the area needs," he said.

And he pointed out the rail line from London needed improvements along its entire length - not just at the southern end.

He said: "We all know about the issues at Haughley and near Norwich as well. We just have to keep pushing for this."

The campaign has been backed by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership which has calculated that improvements to the line which would speed up trains and increase capacity could be worth £9.3bn to the region.

It would allow all Intercity trains to travel from London to Norwich in 90 minutes and to Ipswich in 60 - and improve reliability by giving passenger trains more opportunities to overtake slower freight services.

The new trains introduced by Greater Anglia over the last two years are able to travel faster and accelerate better than the locomotive services they replaced, but they are not able to reach their full potential because of speed limits and capacity issues on the line.

While much of the attention is concentrated on the main line to London, another major concern for the region is the Ely North junction which limits services from Norwich to Cambridge and Peterborough and services from Ipswich to Peterborough.

That needs to be rebuilt - but it is very challenging because of the number of level crossings and homes in the area - and the fact the land there is very flat. 

A public consultation on options in the Ely area is currently under way, but any work there is likely to be years away.

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