Rail services in East Anglia are more popular - but there’s still more to be done

The train at Lowestoft that attracted great excitement among enthusiasts.

The train at Lowestoft that attracted great excitement among enthusiasts. - Credit: Archant

As someone who usually enjoys travelling by rail, I try to make at least one trip a year around the region just to see how services off the main line are fairing.

The line from Norwich to Lowestoft - near Reedham - is the most attractive route in East Anglia.

The line from Norwich to Lowestoft - near Reedham - is the most attractive route in East Anglia. - Credit: Archant

It helps when I’m writing about improvements to these services – and there’s nothing like riding the trains to get an idea of the service they’re offering and what people think about them.

This year I rode Greater Anglia’s regional network on a work day just before the start of the Easter school holidays so the passenger numbers were not boosted by families going out for the day – this was a “normal” operating day.

Firstly, as someone who has been travelling by train all my life (I’m old enough to remember travelling on the Aldeburgh branch before it closed in 1966) I have to say the rural train services now are infinitely better than they were when I was a youngster.

I started the journey by travelling from Ipswich to Cambridge in a three-car air-conditioned (Class 170 for the enthusiast) train which was pretty full but in no way overcrowded.

East Midlands Trains run services to Norwich from Liverpool and Birmingham.

East Midlands Trains run services to Norwich from Liverpool and Birmingham. - Credit: Archant

It’s not as fast as driving along the A14 and Cambridge station is a 20-minute walk from the city centre, but it’s certainly a better way of reaching the city than it used to be!

I was speaking to one passenger from Bury St Edmunds who had not used the train for years but decided to try it to get to Stansted Airport and was impressed that it was much more comfortable than she had remembered it!

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The service from Cambridge to Norwich has become increasingly popular over recent years – it was only launched as a through service in 2004.

On the day I travelled the train was cancelled because the GA diesel unit had broken down. Not a good start. However there are so many trains on this route with Cross Country services from Stansted to the Midlands and East Midlands services from Birmingham and Liverpool to Norwich that it made little difference.

The comfortable train running between Ipswich and Cambridge

The comfortable train running between Ipswich and Cambridge - Credit: Archant

I had to change at Ely, but I actually arrived in Norwich 10 minutes earlier than I had expected. I had to stand for the 10-mile trip from Cambridge to Ely but that was no great hardship, and I had a seat for the attractive journey through Breckland.

Coming from Ipswich, that is a line that you have to make a bit of an effort to use – but it is one of the more attractive routes in East Anglia travelling through Thetford Forest and Suffolk/Norfolk borderlands before reaching Norwich.

Again this is a route that is once again taking on the mantle of a “main line”. When I was a student at Norwich in the 1970s it was the home to some of the oldest and frankly grottiest trains that British Rail could muster taking ages for the journey to Ely.

I didn’t travel to Sheringham this time because I know the line from Norwich to north Norfolk well already, but I did take the chance to take a one-car diesel unit to Yarmouth (via Berney Arms) and back (via Acle).

Inter City trains awaiting departure from Norwich - but this time I stayed on the rural lines.

Inter City trains awaiting departure from Norwich - but this time I stayed on the rural lines. - Credit: Archant

The scenery on this line is great, and only a few trains take the Berney Arms route. But I’m afraid I’m not eulogising over the single-car units. There’s a reason some enthusiasts call them “Scuds.”

Highlight of the day was the trip from Norwich to Lowestoft along the most attractive line in East Anglia in a train made up of three beautifully restored 1970s-built coaches and top and tailed by a pair of ultra-modern Class 68 diesel locomotives.

This normal service train was packed with fellow rail enthusiasts, some of whom stayed on to go straight back when we reached Britain’s most easterly station.

I was tempted to join them but had to jump on another Class 170 unit to take me back to Ipswich along the East Suffolk line.

This is “my line” it was the gateway to the outside world when I was a teenager growing up near Saxmundham.

The trains on it now are much, much better than the were then and the hourly service means it is much more flexible. The train was much fuller than I remember it being in the 1970s.

It’s wonderful to see a line that Dr Beeching tried to close coming back to life – but I’ll repeat my plea I’ve made before. Please Network Rail do something to improve the line speed. Close pedestrian crossings. Improve track quality. In the 21st century trains should be able to do 49 miles in less than 100 minutes!

Sadly I didn’t make it to Felixstowe – although the trains were running the day of my trip. To be honest one return trip on a single-car unit was enough. Overall, I liked what I saw – and things will get even better when new trains come in by 2020.