Minister signals green light to clear bottleneck for East Anglia trains

Ely Station is one of the largest interchanges in East Anglia. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Ely Station is one of the largest interchanges in East Anglia. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Hopes are rising that the £500m upgrade of the region’s worst rail bottleneck will soon get the go ahead – allowing more trains to run from Ipswich to Peterborough and more cross-country freight services to operate from Felixstowe.

Improving rail lines through Ely is vital if more trains are to be able to run – three lines split to the north of the station and these junctions are currently operating at capacity and it is not possible to run more trains through this section of track.

MORE: Freight companies want improvements to East Anglian lines

A proposal to improve Ely North Junction was put on hold five years ago to allow a wider look at rail lines in the area and to look at possible road changes because the lines are crossed by three separate level crossings which are a potential safety hazard.

Network Rail also wants to look at the junction to the south of Ely where the line to Ipswich splits from the West Anglia route. The total cost of improvements in the area has risen from £25m to £500m - but rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris told a meeting last week that the project should go ahead.

He also said he would be trying to push it ahead as quickly as possible to avoid costs going up further - a public consultation on the proposals finished at the start of this month.

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Running an hourly service between Ipswich and Peterborough - where there are connections for the midlands, north of England and Scotland - was a key element of the successful bid by Abellio when they won the Greater Anglia franchise in 2016.

But its importance in allowing more cross-country freight trains from Felixstowe is what is likely to have persuaded the government to go ahead with the mayor investment – it could potentially also allow a twice-hourly service to operate between Norwich and Cambridge, increasing the number of trains using Brandon station.

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James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, welcomed the news: “This upgrade is of absolutely critical importance regionally if we are to get the East of England realising its full potential and punching its weight for UK Inc.

“Everyone is aware that there are competing demands on the transport purse, but we’ve made a very strong business case and I will maintain the pressure. Unblock Ely rail and you unlock opportunity and potential across the whole of East Anglia and way beyond, and you help the green agenda by getting people and freight off the roads.”

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