Why can’t all trains travel from Ipswich to London in less than 60 minutes?

An electric train like this ran from Norwich to London in just over 80 minutes to mark the completio

An electric train like this ran from Norwich to London in just over 80 minutes to mark the completion of the electrification of the line in 1987. - Credit: Archant

The new “Norwich in 90, Ipswich in 60” services fulfil a Greater Anglia franchise commitment – but are realistically unlikely to make a major impact on travel patterns to London.

The new services will operate on two services a day in each direction – and none of these trains are running at what is usually considered to be rush hours.

They will run after most commuters are at their desks at times of the day when there spare paths on the rail network.

Because the issue with speeding up rail services on the Great Eastern Main Line really isn’t the state of the trains that operate.

A one-off special train ran non-stop from Norwich to London Liverpool Street in little over 80 minutes. The locomotives and carriages used on services for the last 15 years can easily travel at up to 110mph on other parts of the UK rail network.

The problem on the GEML is the capacity, especially in Essex. Trains that are perfectly capable of operating at 100mph and faster have to trundle along at much less than that speed between Colchester and Shenfield because they are stuck behind commuter services stopping at every station and freight trains which rarely travel at more than 60mph.

In other parts of the country there are four tracks on busy stretches of the line – with “slow” and “fast” lines in each direction. We don’t have that in East Anglia – even where there are four lines south of Shenfield there is such an intensive “metro” service on their lines that the outer commuter trains still hold up Intercity trains.

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Greater Anglia hopes to bring out a new timetable for main line to London within the next two years, by which time all trains should have been replaced and new rolling stock is everywhere.

That might speed services up marginally – but until Network Rail is given permission to open its coffers and spend hundreds of millions of pounds enhancing the infrastructure (not just replacing what is already there) the idea of most trains travelling this fast to London will remain just an unrealistic fantasy.