East Anglia: Get on with upgrading trains – rail expert

Christian Wolmar.

Christian Wolmar. - Credit: Paul Geater

TRANSPORT chiefs in Whitehall should give Greater Anglia the green light to go ahead with ordering refurbished trains for the main line to London.

That’s the verdict of one of the country’s leading rail experts as the debate over the future of services in the region continues.

Christian Wolmar has written a number of books about the modern British railway industry – and is a regular contributor to national newspapers and the trade press.

Last year he was a keynote speaker at a rail conference organised by Suffolk County Council.

Yesterday the EADT revealed that Department for Transport officials were weighing up whether to allow Greater Anglia to order refurbished carriages which could be delivered from next year – or whether to wait until the new franchise was awarded in 2016 for brand new trains to be delivered.

Mr Wolmar said the refurbished option would be best for passengers – as well as being cheaper.

Refurbished carriages are already in use on Chiltern Line services between London and Birmingham.

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He said: “I travelled to Birmingham on the Chiltern Line just the other week, and the carriages are much more comfortable than the Pendolinos (on the rival Virgin service).

“From my knowledge of the Greater Anglia route, I would say the refurbished carriages would be much better for passengers and it would allow a significant upgrade much quicker than waiting for new trains.”

He felt the rail franchise system was in chaos – and if there were not quick decisions by the DfT there could be few major improvements in the rail vehicles themselves for many years.

He said: “When the rail franchises were first sold off, they were all dealt with quite successfully in 16 months. “The current round of franchises is taking at least five years – and it could be longer than that.

“That makes it very difficult for rail operators to take long-term decisions, so many of them are on short-term contracts or coming to the end of a franchise period.”

One of the few rail franchises that has a long-term deal is Chiltern which runs from Marylebone in London to Birmingham via Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire – and which has seen its services transformed with upgraded trains over the last two years.

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