North Walsham Station Travel Plan hailed as a national trailblazer
A pilot project aimed at encouraging more north Norfolk people to use the train has been hailed as a national first.
Key members of the north Norfolk community joined new Bittern Line operators Greater Anglia at North Walsham railway station yesterday for the official unveiling of a cycle shelter, improved information boards and the launch of a new 'Getting to the station leaflet', which are the first fruits of the town's Station Travel Plan.
But rail users have been warned that bigger projects, to address problems including buying tickets, over-crowding and poor parking facilities, will have to wait.
First launched in autumn 2010, the plan involved close working between the train operators, county and north Norfolk district councils, Bittern Line Community Rail Partnership, Paston Sixth Form College and armies of volunteers who conducted surveys on the station and in the town centre to gather ideas on how to improve its facilities.
Geraint Hughes, partnership manager with Greater Anglia, said travel plans were normally expensive and conducted in large urban areas, but by harnessing volunteer help, the North Walsham model, which was now set to be copied in other rural areas, had cost just under �10,000.
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About 10pc of the town's population – 1,200 people – had been consulted and future projects would see lighting improvements, replacement waiting shelters and information screens.
Jonathan Denby, Greater Anglia's head of corporate affairs, said the Bittern Line partnership was regarded as one of the country's most successful.
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Rail use had trebled from 200,000 passenger journeys a year when the partnership was formed in 1997, to 600,000, he said.
But Greater Anglia, which took over the franchise on February 5, could not deliver more rolling stock, or timetable changes because it only had a two-and-a-half year contract.
Mr Denby has pledged to discuss ticketing concerns with county councillor Paul Morse, a North Walsham resident and regular rail user.
Mr Morse tried unsuccessfully to persuade franchise predecessors National Express East Anglia to reinstate the station's ticket booth so that passengers using busy services can buy tickets before boarding.
Scores of ticketless passengers arrived in Norwich and then had to waste valuable time queueing to buy a ticket, he said.
Mr Morse said he welcomed the station improvements but thought bringing back the ticket booth, even if only manned at peak periods, would benefit many hundreds of passengers and reduce their stress.
'The worry it causes people shouldn't be understated,' he said. 'It can create chaos when there are lots of people without tickets at Norwich.'
He is also keen for action to improve access to the station with better parking.
Hoped for re-development of the station approach area has been frozen because of complications caused by multiple land ownerships.
And Mr Morse said he was also frustrated by long-term inaction at the neighbouring demolished former HL Foods factory site where a planning blueprint includes station parking facilities.
He would like to see it incorporate a bus terminal which could ferry passengers between the station and the town centre, removing the need for buses to loiter in the congested Market Place and beside Lidl's.
'There are lots of benefits of many organisations having a stake in things,' said Mr Morse.
'But there are also lots of downsides and delays involved when you have such a fragmentation of responsibilities.'