Rail network 'bursting at seams'

THE rail network in East Anglia is “bursting at the seams” and needs drastic improvements to commuter and freight services, a damning new report claims.

THE rail network in East Anglia is “bursting at the seams” and needs drastic improvements to commuter and freight services, a damning new report claims.

Pressure group Transport 2000 publishes its manifesto today and has drawn up a list of “pinch points” in the East of England, which it believes must be tackled as part of the Government's new rail strategy.

It says the bottlenecks constrain growth, lead to overcrowding, choke demand and debilitate train travel - and can only be solved by having more stations, extra services and longer trains.

Importantly for commuters in Suffolk and Essex, the 21-strong coalition of trade, voluntary and public sector organisations says infrastructure improvements are needed on the Ipswich to London line.

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A spokesman for Transport 2000 said: “In stark contrast to the situation in Scotland and Wales, where bottlenecks are being addressed and lines reopened, parts of the East of England's railways are already bursting at the seams and desperately need expanding.”

Among the 12 areas it says need tackling in the region, is the need for an east to west project.

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This would see improvements to links from East Anglia to destinations on the opposite side of London and connection to all radial routes north of the Thames.

It says the scheme would be essential for freight and rail travel within and outside the region, which is only possible via London at present.

The group identifies the East Suffolk Junction, where two freight tracks from the north and two passenger and freight tracks from the East Suffolk/Felixstowe branch converge into one line, was a “serious” bottleneck and needs upgrading, along with the Felixstowe to Nuneaton cross-country freight route.

It called for solutions to the “major pinch point” at Ely's north junction and outlined the need for re-signalling in Ely to restore capacity and flexibility.

The line between Cambridge, St Ives and Huntingdon should also be reinstated in stages, it claims, to take traffic off the A14 and there should be an extra platform at Cambridge.

The four-page manifesto says that a growing railway is critical to meeting Government economic and environmental objectives, as well as being integral to tackling road congestion, serving new developments, supporting regeneration and social inclusion.

John Brodribb, from the Sustainable Transport and Environment for Eastern Region (STEER), said: “An efficient railway isn't just about travelling long distances to get from one side of the country to another. It's about ensuring that people can get to work, shops and other local amenities within their towns and cities.

“Local rail connections in the East of England urgently require attention and upgrade, and we urge the Government not to forget the local perspective when growing the railways.”

Peter Meades, spokesman for East Anglian passenger train operator One, said Transport 2000's points were an “interesting shopping list” and explained its role in any changes to the network.

He said: “Because of the way the rail industry is structured now all these issues that relate to infrastructure enhancement and investment come under the remit of Network Rail and the Department for Transport.

“Our role is to run the train services in line with the specifications in the franchise agreement.

“Having said that, we want to work with the Government and stakeholders wherever we can to try to make improvements to the rail network where that will provide key passenger benefits.”

However, he said a lot had work had already been done in some of the areas Transport 2000 pinpoints.

These include the east to west project and the “significant investment” on the Ipswich to London line, which has seen track improvements at Ipswich tunnel and Manningtree.

He said the East Suffolk junction could cope with the level of service at the moment, but more investment might be needed should Felixstowe port be expanded.

And there were already major proposals for a new station at Chesterton, near Cambridge, which Cambridgeshire County Council was taking forward, Mr Meades added.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: “We will certainly look at the Transport 2000 manifesto with interest. Transport 2000 will have the opportunity to take part in the consultation process for the Route Utilisation Strategy.”

The strategy will look at routes across the country and their capacity, identifying any possible schemes and future growth areas. As part of the process, Network Rail is finding out what interested parties, such as passenger groups, local authorities, freight and train operators, would like to see.

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