East Anglia: Dilemma over whether to refurbish existing carriages on Greater Anglia line or wait six years for new ones

A Greater Anglia train

A Greater Anglia train - Credit: citizenside.com

RAIL bosses face a dilemma to keep commuters in East Anglia happy – hold out for brand new trains or refurbish the old ones within the next 18 months.

Passengers could get upgrades to carriages by the middle of next year under one plan, but another would mean waiting as long as six years and getting completely new trains.

The decision will fall to officials at the Department for Transport and according to one Suffolk MP it could still go either way. Last week’s announcement that the short-term Greater Anglia franchise was being extended by two years has placed the future of the region’s passenger rail service into uncertainty.

A long-term, 15-year, franchise on rail routes in East Anglia had been due to start in July next year. The winning bidder was expected to commit to major investment in new trains as soon as the successful company was announced.

But now the long-term franchise is not due to start until July 2016. The winning bidder would probably be announced about four or five months before then – and with a two to three-year lag between ordering new trains and full delivery, the new services would then not come into operation before 2018 or 2019 at the earliest.

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To get things happening sooner, there have been suggestions that the DfT should instruct the winning bidder to accept financial commitments made for rebuilt trains ordered before they are chosen.

That would allow Greater Anglia to go ahead with orders for refurbished trains now, safe in the knowledge that if they were not selected for the long-term contract in three years’ time they would not end up out of pocket. The DfT is unlikely to underwrite the cost of new trains because they are so expensive.

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Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he was having regular meetings with senior officials at the DfT to discuss the situation.

He said: “I can see the attractions of the refurbished trains. They appear to be cheaper and it would be possible to get them in quicker.

“But I would not want to see us rush into getting something that was not right for the region, and then miss out on new trains that are better suited to the region a bit further down the line.

“I understand it is a very fine decision and one which is under active consideration at the department.”

Details of the extension are expected to be thrashed out over the next few months, and Abellio – operator of Greater Anglia – is expected to sign it towards the end of the year.

Witham MP Priti Patel said it was vital that the department recognised the importance of the rail network in this region.

She said: “More and more people are using the trains and there are real concerns that the service is just not good enough.”

Ms Patel would be concerned if there was a substantial delay in upgrading train services and she felt it was important for officials to consider offering a guarantee to allow improved trains to be introduced.

She said: “We will continue to try to make sure our commuters are getting improved services,” she added.

And Mr Gummer insisted the region must not be marginalised: “East Anglia remains one of the few regions that has shown continued growth and to maintain that we need a modern rail network – the DfT will be getting that message!”

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