December 7 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Rail improvements to transform the economy of East Anglia would cost little more than 1% of the estimated cost of the controversial HS2 route.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin spoke to the EADT’s Annabelle Dickson before heading to the region.
He accepted that the state of the region’s rail services was a hot political topic, but warned he would not be making any major announcements during his visit this week.
He said: “One of the things that is more mentioned to me as transport secretary than anything else is to improve and increase capacity, to look at rolling stock in areas, particularly at this time when there is a bit of a gap between the new franchise being awarded.
“The proposals, which are being put forward in a well-researched document by MPs from East Anglia, can all be considered and taken into account when we go out to actually award the franchise.
“We are investing huge amounts of capital at the moment into our railways, more investment than at any time since the Victorian era into our railways.
“We are trying to do things across the country. Electrifying 800 miles, improving stations.”
One investment that should have a knock-on effect on East Anglia is the £30bn Crossrail line under London which is due to open towards the end of the current decade.
He said: “Crossrail will have a big impact. That might ease the pressure on Liverpool Street and allow other opportunities.
“We are going through a massive change as far as what is happening for the rail network and I am going to be using this opportunity to listen to what people have to say.
He said he was aware of the need for investment in a network that had been starved of the money it needed for decades – although with passenger numbers up 2.5 times since privatisation in this region, there was a need for major improvements.
Mr McLoughlin said: “We have got a lot to catch up on. We are investing that money now and obviously it has to be done over a period of time.
“It is one of the reasons why rail fares are going up because we are investing, but we are investing more than just putting up rail fares.
“We are using taxpayer money as well because to have a good rail system for people to rely on is vitally important to the future of East Anglia.
He was making no promises about the pleas for investment on the region’s main line.
He said: “I’ll listen to what they have got to say to me and then take judgements after that. If you talk to people in the rail industry at the moment, they are very excited about the future.
“They do realise there are capacity problems and some of the ideas of improving those capacity problems I am willing to listen to.
“There are a lot of things going on at the moment which will lead to those opportunities. Crossrail is an example of where people may not be going straight into Liverpool Street.”
Mr McLoughlin said he would be happy to talk to local authorities and the business community about the proposed upgrade to the A14 – but he was not aware of the issues raised by the haulage industry.
“We are trying to address the best way to move forward. It is a very big scheme, we have brought it forward by two years to show we are very serious about it.
“It is one of the areas the CBI mentioned. It is important we address those particular problems, but in addressing them we need to find the most affordable way of doing them.
“I think what we are talking about is tolling extra capacity. We are not tolling existing capacity and from what I have been told by the industry, people would welcome the tolling because they believe the increased capacity is very important indeed.”
That’s the message business leaders will be presenting to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin during his visit to the region today.
The rail prospectus produced for regional MPs and business groups suggested that major improvements to the Great Eastern Main Line could bring £3.7bn in benefits to the counties of Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk.
The cost of the improvements demanded by the prospectus is estimated at about £450 million – a tiny fraction of the government’s £42bn estimate of HS2.
John Dugmore from the Suffolk Chamber was very irritated by the government’s willingness to spend money on the HS2 which would link the capital with Birmingham and the north of England.
He said: “We were frustrated that governments past and present have continued to show a preference for the West Coast mainline which receives much higher levels of investment.
“Investment in the Great Eastern Main Line would cost less than that for HS2, whose costs seem to be escalating, would not have the political opposition seen along that particular route, and would deliver a far better return on investment’’.
Investment in this region would bring a much greater return than putting billions into HS2.
Mr Dugmore added: “There has to be a step change in investment if business is to grow during this fragile time for the economy.
“We need more reliability, less disruption and ‘bustitution’, modern and business friendly rolling stock, additional carriages and better facilities at stations. “The time has now come to make real and lasting investment.”
Mr McLoughlin will be meeting business leaders during a session this afternoon with MPs Ben Gummer, Priti Patel, and Chloe Smith who will be making the case for major investment in the region’s rail line.
The main demands for the line include a new passing loop in Essex (which would cost about £250m), improvements to track and level crossings to allow trains to run at 110mph (cost about £40m) and a fleet of new InterCity trains (which cost about £10 million each with the line needing about 15 trains).
The business leaders and MPs will be making the case for more investment at the end of an afternoon which will also have seen the transport secretary visiting Brandon to hear the case for a new relief road and visiting the site of the upgrade work on the A11.
Another key message that MPs and business leaders will be trying to get across to the Transport Secretary is the need to upgrade the A14 in Cambridgeshire – ideally with no tolls.
There are fears that the proposed toll on the new road would put off potential users who would have no easy alternative route – part of the existing road is set to be demolished during the work.
The remainder of the existing road is set to be converted into a local road for cars travelling between Cambridge and Huntingdon – leaving no alternative but to pay the fines for lorries using the A14 to travel between Felixstowe, the midlands, and the north of England.