A Traxx locomotive built for Hungarian railways.

East Anglia: Cut-price rail deal could bring fast benefits to region’s travellers

Thursday, January 31, 2013
11.31 AM

AS MPs and senior councillors from across the region gather at Westminister today for another East Anglia rail summit, details have emerged of the cut-price trains which could transform main-line travel in the region.

The scheme, which is being promoted by train-owning company Porterbrook, is backed by the councillor responsible for transport in Suffolk, Guy McGregor, and would allow the first upgraded trains to be introduced next year.

The trains would also be between half and a third of the price of all-new units – and would be able to speed up services on the Great Eastern Main Line.

Rodney Kerr is a rail consultant who has worked with both Porterbrook and Mr McGregor, and said the trains would be a significant improvement on what is currently on the line.

The existing carriages would be rebuilt – as has happened on Chiltern Railways which has introduced a new express service between London Marylebone and Birmingham – and would be hauled by a new Traxx locomotive, a design which has already proved successful and reliable on the continent.

Mr Kerr said such a train could be leased for £1.3 million a year – which with 13 trains operating on the line would cost £131 million over an eight-year-contract.

A contract for brand new high-speed electric units would cost £312 million over the eight years – and for a basic electric unit the cost would be £224 million over the same period.

The rebuilt carriages would have push-button doors, would be covered by wi-fi and could have USB ports allowing passengers to charge their smart phones or tablets en route.

The trains could travel at up to 120 miles an hour – Network Rail believes such a speed would be achievable on the line north of Ipswich if some of the level crossings on the route were shut.

Speeds of up to 110mph could be achieved between Colchester and Ipswich if the number of crossings were reduced.

Such acceleration should make it easier to run more trains from London to Ipswich in 60 minutes – and would improve the chances of running trains to Norwich in 90 minutes.

Mr Kerr added: “This was all contained in a Network Rail plan drawn up in 2010, but it would require support from Suffolk and Norfolk County Councils to shut some of the crossings.”

Mr McGregor said it was important that the Department for Transport took a quick decision on the future trains for the route.

The current Greater Anglia franchise is due to run until July next year – but it is expected to be extended until 2015 or even 2016 in the wake of the West Coast fiasco.

Mr McGregor said: “We cannot wait until the new franchise to be awarded. It could take another two years after the franchisee comes in before we see any new trains – we can’t wait until 2018!

“We must pressure the Department to come to a decision – and rebuilding the existing carriages seems logical.”

Today’s conference is being held with the backing of MPs including Ipswich member Ben Gummer and Chloe Smith from Norwich North. It is also expected to be attended by rail minister and Chelmsford MP Simon Burns.

Mr Gummer said he felt all options for new trains should be examined, but felt it was important that the Department for Transport should be ready to press ahead with orders before an operator is chosen, if necessary.

He said: “At this stage I don’t have a view on what is the best option. What is important is that we keep up the pressure on the department to reach a decision and this conference will give us the opportunity to get our message across.”