East Anglia: Business calls for rail boost from government as transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin heads east

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin. - Credit: PA

Rail improvements to transform the economy of East Anglia would cost little more than 1% of the estimated cost of the controversial HS2 route.

That’s the message business leaders will be presenting to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin during his visit to the region today.

The rail prospectus produced for regional MPs and business groups suggested that major improvements to the Great Eastern Main Line could bring £3.7bn in benefits to the counties of Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk.

The cost of the improvements demanded by the prospectus is estimated at about £450 million – a tiny fraction of the government’s £42bn estimate of HS2.

John Dugmore from the Suffolk Chamber was very irritated by the government’s willingness to spend money on the HS2 which would link the capital with Birmingham and the north of England.

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He said: “We were frustrated that governments past and present have continued to show a preference for the West Coast mainline which receives much higher levels of investment.

“Investment in the Great Eastern Main Line would cost less than that for HS2, whose costs seem to be escalating, would not have the political opposition seen along that particular route, and would deliver a far better return on investment’’.

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Investment in this region would bring a much greater return than putting billions into HS2.

Mr Dugmore added: “There has to be a step change in investment if business is to grow during this fragile time for the economy.

“We need more reliability, less disruption and ‘bustitution’, modern and business friendly rolling stock, additional carriages and better facilities at stations. “The time has now come to make real and lasting investment.”

Mr McLoughlin will be meeting business leaders during a session this afternoon with MPs Ben Gummer, Priti Patel, and Chloe Smith who will be making the case for major investment in the region’s rail line.

The main demands for the line include a new passing loop in Essex (which would cost about £250m), improvements to track and level crossings to allow trains to run at 110mph (cost about £40m) and a fleet of new InterCity trains (which cost about £10 million each with the line needing about 15 trains).

The business leaders and MPs will be making the case for more investment at the end of an afternoon which will also have seen the transport secretary visiting Brandon to hear the case for a new relief road and visiting the site of the upgrade work on the A11.

Another key message that MPs and business leaders will be trying to get across to the Transport Secretary is the need to upgrade the A14 in Cambridgeshire – ideally with no tolls.

There are fears that the proposed toll on the new road would put off potential users who would have no easy alternative route – part of the existing road is set to be demolished during the work.

The remainder of the existing road is set to be converted into a local road for cars travelling between Cambridge and Huntingdon – leaving no alternative but to pay the fines for lorries using the A14 to travel between Felixstowe, the midlands, and the north of England.

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