East Anglia: Rail wish list for region taking shape

TRAINS running between London and East Anglia should travel at up to 110mph to improve links between the capital and this region.

And millions of pounds should be spent on laying up to 5.5 miles of extra track north of Chelmsford in a bid to ease congestion on one of the busiest lines in the country.

These are believed to be two of the recommendations to be contained in a new manifesto for the region’s railways due to be unveiled next week.

The manifesto, published by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and produced by county councils in association with local MPs who are pledged to put pressure on the Government, will be officially launched on Monday.

It is expected to call for a major investment in the Great Eastern Main Line.

There is frustration among some who believe that the region makes a major contribution to the wealth of the country but does not get an adequate return.

Rail services in East Anglia have always been seen as a “Cinderella service” – and the manifesto aims to reverse that perception.

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Consultant civil engineers Atkins have been called in to look at ways of improving the infrastructure – the section between Colchester and Shenfield is the most intensively-used double-track section of line in the country.

Building an extra track along the whole section is impossible because it goes through the heart of Chelmsford. However, Atkins are understood to recommend that a new 3.5-5.5-mile stretch of “relief” track is built north of Chelmsford and that there should be extra capacity north of Shenfield.

Increasing normal speeds to 110mph should enable trains from London to reach Colchester in 40 minutes, Manningtree in 50 minutes, Ipswich in 60 minutes, Stowmarket in 70 minutes, Diss in 80 minutes, and Norwich in 90 minutes.

It is not just the main line that the LEP is concerned about. The manifesto is also understood to call for major improvements to rural and cross-country lines.

It wants an hourly service to be introduced on the route between Ipswich and Peterborough, with better marketing of the cross-country connections there.

And it wants to follow up the introduction of an hourly service on the East Suffolk route at the end of this year with a speeded up service – giving a one-hour journey time between Lowestoft and Ipswich. The day after the manifesto is launched, Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey is sponsoring a debate in the House of Commons.

She said: “I was delighted to secure this debate as it is a critical moment to raise the issue ahead of decisions being taken by ministers.

“Earlier this week, Ben Gummer and myself met with the minister Theresa Villiers to discuss rail services. Local MPs are working together to press the case for better rail services.”

Bosses at Greater Anglia recognise the need for more investment in rail infrastructure.

Company managing director Ruud Haket said: “The National Passenger Survey result highlights the need for further improvements in the region’s rail services and, together with our partners and stakeholders, we will continue to make a positive case for this additional investment as part of future plans and for the longer 15-year franchise.”