Axe set to fall on major rail schemes

SUFFOLK and Essex rail passengers have been dealt a massive body blow as the Strategic Rail Authority prepares to abandon more than a dozen projects including new stations and rail routes.

SUFFOLK and Essex rail passengers have been dealt a massive body blow as the Strategic Rail Authority prepares to abandon more than a dozen projects including new stations and rail routes.

Among schemes the SRA is considering ditching is the proposed east-west link to Stansted airport from Braintree, a railway station to serve the multi-million pound SnOasis development at Claydon, a planned Ipswich-Cambridge-Bedford-Northampton rail route for passenger services, and an extra two tracks between Colchester and Shenfield on the East Anglia main line.

Aspirational projects that seem likely never to leave the drawing board are an Ipswich Parkway station, a stop at Bramford, and Southend Airport station.

With 485,000 homes planned for the region by 2016, passenger numbers already on the increase and railway company One's controversial decision to reduce services on the main line to Liverpool Street, the SRA's 20 year-plan has met a storm of protest from politicians and railway campaigners.


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However, some positive improvements are planned. New stations for Beaulieu Park north of Chelmsford and the University of Essex have been backed, although finance is likely to be sought from private developers and local authorities.

And the SRA – which is due to be wound up next year – has told the Department for Transport that improvements must be funded to the rail line from the Haven Ports of Harwich and Felixstowe via Newmarket to allow the route to take the new generation of containers.

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This would allow freight trains to travel on the under-used lines through west Suffolk to Yorkshire and the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton.

There is backing also for improvements to the Clacton line but some rail projects, notably the east-west link to Stansted, will be replaced by a "quality coach solution".

Following the Government's decision this week to approve the east-west Crossrail linking the region with Heathrow Airport through a new tunnel under London, the SRA has committed itself to supporting the north-south Thameslink 2000, which would provide a through service from West Norfolk to Kent and Sussex via Stansted airport.

The 20 year-regional planning assessment will be considered next week by the planning panel of the East of England Regional Assembly, which is responsible for co-ordinating transport links across Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Barry Louth, regional transport officer for EERA, said the body's main concern was the lack of any improvement to east-west passenger links.

"The regional planning assessment from the SRA does not support an east-west rail route east of Bedford either via Hitchin or St Neots, the reopening of the Bedford-Northampton line, the Stansted east-west link, or the four tracking of the Great Eastern Main Line from Colchester to Shenfield."

Once the SRA is wound up in the next couple of years, its strategic responsibilities and financial obligations will pass to the Secretary of State for Transport.

A spokesman for the SRA said last night it would be inappropriate to comment on the proposals as they are still in the consultation phase. They will be published later in the spring, he added.

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