Ipswich: New improvements ready as rail line nears completion

A general view of part of the Ipswich Chord which is due to open on the 31st March

A general view of part of the Ipswich Chord which is due to open on the 31st March

As construction work on the £35million new Ipswich Rail Chord is completed this weekend, attention has now shifted to further major improvements to the network.

Work to replace Haughley junction could start within the next two years. And then there could be a major upgrade of Ipswich station itself.

The chord – which links the Felixstowe branch with the north-facing main cross-country line to Peterborough, the north and midlands – will be fully opened for cross-country trains from March 31.

Its opening will cut journey times by between 45 and 75 minutes as trains no longer have to reverse in the Ipswich freight yard.

Work on the £35m project started in 2012, and received a major grant from the European Union to help finance the scheme.

Rail minister Stephen Hammond visited the site to see the progress of the work. He said: “This is very important for Felixstowe, this region and the country as a whole. It will make it much easier to get goods to and from the port.

“It also has a very important environmental benefit because it should take many more lorries off the roads.”

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The completion of the work should allow Network Rail to look again at its operations in the Ipswich area as trains will no longer have to turn around there.

This could mean moving the fuelling point, currently next to Platform Four at the station, to a new site at Ipswich or even at Felixstowe port.

That would free up space for the possible construction of a new bay platform for trains heading to Peterborough and Cambridge.

Rob Fairhead of Network Rail said: “Those proposals are not in our current long-term plans but they are the kind of developments we could look at in the future.

“We have talked to the port about moving the fuelling area to the port but there is nothing firm yet – but the chord will make a huge difference to the way we operate.”

Haughley junction is one of the most serious pinch-points on the route and is due to be changed, probably turning it into a full junction that both passenger and freight trains will be able to travel over much faster.

That is in the next Network Rail planning period – and Mr Fairhead hoped it would be completed during the first half of the five-year plan.