East Anglia: Widespread welcome for rail boost

George Osborne and Ben Gummer at Ipswich railway station.

George Osborne and Ben Gummer at Ipswich railway station.

There was a general welcome for proposals to speed up rail services from political and business leaders – although there is some concern in Essex that there could be a reduction in services to that county.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has been leading the calls to improve journey times.

He said: “We have won the big battle today by getting the support of the Chancellor and the government for our campaign. Now we have to work to see that it is carried through.”

The fact that the Chancellor had put his weight behind the efforts should not be under-estimated.

He added: “I cannot overstate how big this is: it signals, potentially, the greatest investment in our line since it was built – greater even than electrification back in the 1980s.”

Fellow Tory MP Priti Patel echoed his welcome.

She said: “This is great news for Essex. The Chancellor has taken a great deal of interest in the Great Eastern Main Line. He is fully aware of the economic strength of the region and the business case for investment in the mainline.

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“His announcement today is recognition that the campaign for more capacity, better rolling stock and improved rail services for commuters has taken an important step forward.”

“New investment will not be immediate but is now closer to being secured.”

However Colchester Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell issued a note of caution.

He said he would welcome improvements to the line so long as they did not reduce the number of InterCity trains stopping at Colchester.

He had supported the East Anglian Rail Alliance after being given an assurance there would be no reduction, and said that promise had not been broken.

On that basis he added: “I welcome any moves which directly or indirectly improves the rail service for Colchester people.”

Business leaders in the area have been campaigning for improved services for years.

Stephen Britt, chairman of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “Today’s announcement is good news for passengers and good news for business.

“Comfort in the short term and ‘Ipswich in 60’ in the medium term will make a big difference to both commuters coming out of Suffolk and for those coming to our county to do business.”

The announcement was also welcomed by current rail operator Greater Anglia.

Managing director Ruud Haket said: “At Greater Anglia, we played a pivotal role in the development of the East Anglian Rail Prospectus and we have helped to build, and work with, a regional alliance of stakeholders actively seeking to achieve the aspirations set out in that strategy.

“We will continue to make a positive contribution to plans for the development of longer term upgrades for the Great Eastern Main Line (between Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and London), whilst in the short term we can confirm that we are in discussions about potential improvements to rolling stock.”

However Derek Monnery of the Essex Rail Users Federation was worried that there would be few benefits for travellers in his county.

He said: “The only really positive news is the provision of a rail loop north of Chelmsford.

“The InterCity sets were due for overhaul now in any case. New trains from 2020 makes sense as another overhaul would be needed of the existing sets.

“The big punch up will be over what standard the new stock will be; any lowering of standards will bring a major outcry from Suffolk and Norfolk.

“Short franchises do not allow any investment. Seven years is simply not long enough. I think our lines have had more changes of franchise than any other and look what a mess that has created.”