Suffolk: Rail manifesto detailing plans for major improvements to mainline services due to be launched
POLITICIANS across the area are set to step up pressure for a major improvement on mainline services to London over the next few weeks.
But there is still concern that long-term planning could be difficult because it is still unclear when the next round of rail franchises will start.
Suffolk councillor with responsibility for transport Guy McGregor is set to launch the county’s new rail manifesto at a cabinet meeting next Tuesday – December 11.
He is concerned that the delay to the award of the new West Coast franchise could delay the award of the next long-term contract for this region – it is due to be awarded in July 2014.
The manifesto is expected to call for work to start now on improving InterCity trains – by starting a programme of refurbishing the Mark III carriages that are in use on the line. Carriages identical to these have been rebuilt and put into service on the Chiltern Line between London and Birmingham and have been a great success.
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Mr McGregor is keen this should be repeated in East Anglia – the cost of refurbishing a carriage most experts consider to be the best ever built in Britain is �100,000 compared with the �1million cost of building a new carriage. The manifesto also calls for improvements to the main line and further development of the East Suffolk line to bring down the journey time for the 46-mile journey from Ipswich to Lowestoft from its current 91 minutes.
Mr McGregor said: “We know there is a real danger that the franchise decision could be delayed, and we cannot wait indefinitely for these improvements.
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“We will need to talk to the government and the rail companies to see what we can do to bring forward the improvements that are needed.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer is part of a group of East Anglian MPs trying to keep up the pressure on the Government to improve rail services.
He was told by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in a parliamentary answer that there should be no further delay to other franchises – although Mr Gummer accepted that could change as the internal inquiry into the failings of the West Coast bid continued.
He said: “We should know by the end of the month whether there will be a delay – and until then the Department is not saying anything.
“But we (the MPs) are still working on Network Rail to try to get them to include improvements in the Great Eastern line on their next programme of works, and we feel we are making great progress.”