Suffolk: Minister’s pledge as rail task force to start work

Graham Newman of Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey, transport minister St

Graham Newman of Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey, transport minister Stephen Hammond, Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, and Mark Pendlington from New Anglia LEP at the Suffolk rail conference. - Credit: Archant

Ministers at the Transport Department are now well aware of the problems on the main rail line from London to East Anglia – and are determined to see services improve.

That was the message brought by transport minister Stephen Hammond to the second Suffolk rail conference held at Endeavour House in Ipswich.

Mr Hammond said the first meeting of the task force set up by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to look at improving the Great Eastern main line from Norwich and Ipswich to London would meet on Tuesday.

It would be led by MPs Ben Gummer and Chloe Smith – with representatives from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership also taking a key role.

The task force is aiming to draw up a list of improvements to speed up services – allowing most trains to reach Ipswich from London in 60 minutes and Norwich in 90 minutes without cutting out stops at Colchester and Manningtree.

Mr Hammond said: “We are well aware of the need to improve the services to this region, and that will require considerable investment.”

He said the new passenger franchise would start in 2016 – and its conditions would be closely linked in with the needs of the passengers.

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“The rail industry has been a success story, but we must look hard at the challenges that success poses – and come up with ways to improve services across the country, including this region.”

Mr Gummer also spoke at the meeting, saying the region should have a first-class rail service because it was helping to bring the country out of recession.

He repeated his claim that with the right investment, and the new industries growing around Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge that East Anglia could become “The California of Europe.”

However he warned: “When that happens, we must not be held back by a rail network that has not had the investment that it needs over many decades.”

The conference was also addressed by rail specialist and author Christian Wolmar, who said that the doubling in passenger numbers over the last 20 years meant there was a need for major investment in the region.

He produced figures showing that 735 million passenger journeys in 1994/95 had grown to 1.5 billion passenger journeys across the rail network in 2012/13.

The number of passengers using Suffolk stations has grown even more during that time.

“This has been a time of success for the rail industry, but it requires sustained investment and long-term decisions to be made,” he added.