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East Anglia: Rail transformation on the way

PUBLISHED: 09:28 08 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:16 08 November 2013

Greater Anglia train.

Greater Anglia train.

Archant

A £550 million transformation of East Anglia’s main rail line to London – cutting up to 25% off journey times – has received top-level backing from Chancellor George Osborne.

Mr Osborne unveiled a task force to push for a rebirth of the Great Eastern Main Line during a visit to the region.

And it has emerged that this is set to include new track, new trains, and improved journey times by the end of the next franchise period in 2023.

That will mean most trains from London to Ipswich will take only 60 minutes, with a 70-minute journey time to Stowmarket. At present most Ipswich trains take 70 to 75 minutes.

Before the long-term improvements start, however, current rail operator Greater Anglia is to modernise its existing InterCity trains starting next year – providing a short-term improvement until new trains come in further down the line.

The current rail franchise ends in 2016. The next franchise will last for seven years, not 15 as originally planned, and by its end the operator will have to offer faster journeys to the capital.

This will be achieved by three major investments:

About £150 million is set to be spent on building a third track north of Chelmsford to ease congestion. This is due to be carried out between 2018 and 2021.

A total of £200 million will be spent on other track improvements between Shenfield and Norwich, including closing level crossings, replacing track and improving Haughley Junction. These works will be carried out throughout the next decade, but it is hoped they should be substantially complete by the end of 2021.

A further £200 million should be spent on new InterCity trains to be introduced as a requirement of the new franchise – they will come into service between 2018 and 2020.

The funding is not expected to come direct from the Treasury.

The track improvements will come from Network Rail’s own investment plans for the years 2014-19 and 2019-24 – but the clear backing of the Chancellor should mean they are seen as a priority.

The new trains will be part of the franchise – and bidders will be expected to take account the cost when submitting their application to run services.

By the end of 2023 the improvements should have been in place for two years – and rail passengers should see a major improvement.

Mr Osborne announced the establishment of a task force to look at how to upgrade the line during a visit to Norwich yesterday at which he met business leaders from across the region.

He has been lobbied about the need to improve the track by a consortium of local MPs, Ipswich’s Ben Gummer, Norwich MP Chloe Smith and Witham MP Priti Patel.

The Chancellor said: “East Anglia is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and is establishing itself as a world leader in science, technology and manufacturing.

“To support this growth we need to have modern, efficient rail services and improved connections.

“I am absolutely behind the region and that’s why I’ve set up a task force to see how we can build on the excellent work by Chloe Smith, Ben Gummer, and Priti Patel.”

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