East Anglia: Rail changes are ‘realistic and feasible’

“RELATIVELY small changes” to the region’s rail network would make a considerable difference to communities across Suffolk – that’s the message from a cohort of MPs.

A manifesto launched at London Liverpool Street Station yesterday – called “Once in a Generation” – has been put together by a group of cross-party MPs, 28 local authorities, 19 rail user groups as well as businesses and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) from across Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

It puts forward a case for a “realistic and technically feasible” programme of improvements to be made between now and 2032 across the counties which the partners say will help create thousands of jobs, unlock billions of pounds of growth for the UK economy and improve connections between communities.

As revealed by the EADT on Friday, the key priorities include an increase of the speed limit to 110mph along sections of the Great Eastern Main Line, new Inter City-quality trains and an extra third track around Chelmsford to enable overtaking and increase capacity.

But the detailed 28-page prospectus, prepared in close consultation with Network Rail and Greater Anglia, also outlines a set of proposals for each county in order to justify the required investment being sought from the Government.

Ben Gummer, MP for Ipswich and one of seven Suffolk representatives involved in preparing the paper, was at yesterday’s launch and said it was not “all about trains” – but about jobs and prosperity in the future.

He said: “We have not fought hard enough for this in past decades and that is why we are getting together now, united on this.

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“We have one of the highest contributions to the national rail pot come from eastern region rail users, so a lot of the money that we spend in the eastern region goes out to subsidise lines in the north.

“What we’re saying is we need to retain a bit more of that for investment. What we’re asking for in terms of money is pretty modest in the grand scheme of things’.”

Recommendations include developing Stowmarket as an interchange between the Ipswich-to-Cambridge line and the Great Eastern Main Line as well as increasing capacity at Ipswich Station.

Essex MP Priti Patel, who represents Witham, added: “Each year the Government and rail operating company profits from the high fares commuters in Essex pay and it is about time passengers received some investment back in return.”

Ruud Haket, managing director for Greater Anglia, the short-term franchise operator for the region before a long-term appointment is made in 2014, said the proposals painted a “realistic picture” and the next challenge was to secure funding from the Government.

He said: “The first steps should come in the next few years. Realistic changes that will have an impact and then there are longer-term changes that can really come to fruition in the next stage of the franchise.”