Suffolk rail improvement takes step back as government 'assesses' project

Haughley junction

Improvements to Haughley Junction are being re-assessed by the Department for Transport. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Attempts to upgrade the mainline between Ipswich and Norwich appear to have slipped back following a shake-up in the rail industry.

But Suffolk County Council is still pressing the authorities to make a decision to get on with the work at Haughley Junction that would enable more trains to use the cross country line from Ipswich and Felixstowe to Cambridge and Ely.

Three years ago indications were good that restoring a full two-track junction at the site was progressing well and work could soon start.

However, the pandemic forced the government to restructure the rail industry as passenger numbers tumbled and income was slashed.

Decisions on even comparatively-modest schemes like Haughley were taken back from Network Rail to the Department for Transport (DfT) – and a spokesman for the department said the project was now one of many across the country that was "under assessment" by civil servants.

The county council is set to pass a motion at this week's meeting calling for Network Rail to get on with improvements – but the DfT spokesman said the decision now rests solely with Whitehall.

In 2019 Network Rail indicated it was close to making a decision to do the work in the next few years and Suffolk council leaders pledged £1m towards the project. The full cost was not revealed but it was estimated at between £10m and £20m.

However, the pandemic forced the government to tear up rail franchises and reorganise the industry – creating a new body called Great British Railways to effectively run all trains in the country.

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But the county council is still expected to keep pressing Network Rail.

A spokesman for the council said: "Suffolk County Council is fully aware that the DfT is the funding body and main decision-maker for the Haughley Junction Rail project.

"However, it is a Network Rail managed project and Suffolk County Council has had a great deal of positive engagement with them around securing funding for the project from the DfT.

"Therefore, at this stage we are lobbying National Rail for a commitment to deliver their improvement project.

"We will, in parallel, continue to express the importance of this key infrastructure project and importance to be part of upcoming funding decisions to the DfT both as a key stakeholder and through the Sub National Transport Body Transport East, which leads on strategic rail matters in our region."