Green light for rail improvements

RAIL improvements planned for East Anglia over the next four years are unlikely to fall victim to government spending cuts, it has emerged.

Network Rail is a year into a five-year programme to replace overhead wires in Essex and is due to upgrade the cross-country route from Felixstowe to the Midlands, including a new curve at Ipswich.

It is also due to install a passing loop at Beccles by 2012 – allowing an hourly service on the East Suffolk line all the way from Ipswich to Lowestoft.

A spokesman for Network Rail said the money for these projects had already been handed over.

He said: “This cash is in our pockets. These schemes are not at risk from any government spending reviews – work is continuing to implement them.”

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The work on the main line is causing serious disruption at weekends and is due to continue until 2014, except during the Olympics and Paralympics when all long-term projects on rail lines around London will be suspended.

Longer term rail projects could be under more threat – and the Conservatives have refused to make any commitment to funding the ambitious, and expensive, Crossrail service under central London aimed at linking Shenfield with Maidenhead.

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But the news about services in this region was welcomed in rail circles with rail operator National Express East Anglia already making plans to increase services on the East Suffolk line.

Peter Meades from NXEA said the improvements to the cross-country route would have a major impact on services to London.

He said: “It will mean getting freight trains away from one of the busiest lines in the country and making more space for passenger services, and that has to be good for everyone.”

The confirmation of the improvements came on the day that new figures showed that punctuality on services in East Anglia had improved – but was still below the national average.

Figures from Network Rail showed that in April 92.7% of services in the region ran on time – or within 10 minutes of schedule – during the same period last year the figure was 91.9%. The national average was 94%.

Mr Meades said the underlying figures showed a steady improvement in rail services since National Express took over six years ago.

“At the start of the franchise period 84% of the trains were on time – the latest annual figures show 91% are on time. That represents steady progress,” he said.

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