Rail minister in Norwich visit
Transport minister Theresa Villiers has tempered hopes of faster journey times from Norwich to London, saying the aspiration has to be balanced with the needs of passengers further down the line.
The minister was in Norfolk today (Thursday) at the invitation of Norwich North MP Chloe Smith to hear from business bosses, passenger groups and MPs, who are calling for better services and investment in rail links to and from the county.
Campaigners behind the Norwich in Ninety campaign told Mrs Villiers they wanted faster journeys from Norwich to London, but the minister sounded a noted of caution.
She said: 'Potentially, journey time savings are achievable, but one has to balance the interests of all passengers along the route. People in Essex are, frankly, a bit nervous about the campaign.
'We need to look at value for money and affordability, but also the impact on other commuters. Chloe will be making the case for faster trains into London, but it is important also to consider those Essex commuters.'
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Mrs Villiers said she recognised the importance of the route and of other lines in Norfolk to the county's economy.
She said: 'Infrastructure improvements are going ahead and on the journey up I was talking to Network Rail on the importance of that and of that being delivered efficiently and on time. As we go forward through the franchising situation we will look at further investment and that is why we are here – to listen to their aspirations. I know people here have really strong views on it and I am happy to hear from them.'
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She said the coalition government was undertaking a programme of capacity expansion on the railways bigger than anything since the Victorian era.
Mrs Villiers was also urged to help improve station facilities across Norfolk, with Graham Plant, county council cabinet member for planning and transportation, highlighting the need for improvements at Great Yarmouth.
She said part of the franchising requirements in future years would be for train operators to take on responsibility for stations.
Ironically, Mrs Villiers's arrival in Norwich by train was delayed by just over half an hour because a tree had fallen on overhead lines near Diss.
The visit comes ahead of a rail summit in Westminster next week, where train operator Network Rail, MPs, business leaders and councillors will come together to discuss improvements to services.