No industry was more badly hit by the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn than the railways.

And more than three years on from the first lockdowns and changes to commuting lifestyles there is little immediate prospect of train companies getting back to where there were in February 2020.

The industry remains in something of a maelstrom. The franchise system, which was creaking before the pandemic, collapsed as the government had to pour in billions into the industry to keep empty trains running.

The government claims it is going to set up a new body Great British Railways to oversee the industry and contract individual companies to provide services under the GBR branding - but there has been little sign of progress towards that over the last two years.

A year ago this week Dutch Railways effectively walked away from the UK industry by selling its Abellio UK arm, including Greater Anglia, to a management buyout Transport UK.

On top of all the uncertainty over the structure of the industry, we've also had to endure more than a year of strikes and other industrial action over pay and working conditions.

But with all the changes and uncertainties, what has that done to the industry in this part of the world? 

Last week I enjoyed a genuine staycation - time off work, at home and spent travelling around East Anglia.

I bought myself a three-day Anglia Plus ticket giving me unlimited travel in East Anglia north of Ipswich and Cambridge.

One of the days I was travelling there was disruption caused by a tree blown down at Manningtree and mechanical problems on the Oulton Broad swing bridge - but I still managed to enjoy a day out to Beccles and Lowestoft.

East Anglian Daily Times: Greater Anglia train at Beccles.Greater Anglia train at Beccles. (Image: Paul Geater)

And I have to say despite all the uncertainty surrounding the industry, this confirmed to me that train travel is the best way of getting around from town to town and I could see why Greater Anglia has been winning national awards for its services.

The number of commuters may still be well down on pre-2020 levels, and it is likely to stay that way as working patterns have changed significantly.

But the trains I was using were mainly carrying leisure passengers - and their numbers seem well up.

The train from Norwich to Cromer was pretty full - why didn't Greater Anglia put a four-car rather than three-car train on one of its busiest routes in August?

Others were busy but didn't feel crowded at all - and I used my week to enjoy days out at some of my favourite places like Ely, Cromer, Lowestoft and Norwich.

East Anglian Daily Times: Modern comfortable trains have transformed travel to places like Lowestoft.Modern comfortable trains have transformed travel to places like Lowestoft. (Image: Paul Geater)

It's not surprising that services are well-used - the trains are extremely comfortable even for those of us with long legs and who are rather broad in the beam.

Their air-conditioning is good and the trains themselves seem reliable (you can't blame a train's mechanics for a fallen tree or a dodgy swing bridge!).

When you hear the horror stories from Trans-Pennine Express, Northern Rail or Avanti West Coast it's not hard to understand why Greater Anglia was named Passenger Operator of the Year at the most recent National Rail Awards.

And while we're quick to hear from people who hold up their hands in horror at this kind of good news, I've also heard - totally unprompted - comments from new travellers who can't believe how comfortable the new trains are.

Not everything is rosy for Greater Anglia or its passengers. Commuters, the foundation upon which much of the rail boom of the last 20 years is based, still have not all returned (and are unlikely to).

There may be new trains, but the track needs investment - and not just replacing exisiting tracks.

If we want to see more growth, especially of rail freight, there needs to be improvements at places like Haughley junction and Ely - and Ely in particular is a really tough nut to crack where any solution is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds.