Essex: County must not be overlooked in bid to speed up rail services – MP

MPs Priti Patel and Chloe Smith with other members of the taskforce at the Witham meeting. MPs Priti Patel and Chloe Smith with other members of the taskforce at the Witham meeting.

Saturday, March 29, 2014
6:00 AM

The needs of Essex travellers must not be overlooked in any rush to speed up rail services from London to Suffolk and Norfolk.

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That was the pledge from Witham MP Priti Patel at the first open meeting of the task force looking at ways of boosting the main link from Liverpool Street to the region.

Politicians and business leaders have come together in a bid to speed up services on the Great Eastern Main Line by the early 2020s.

The aim is for trains from London to reach Norwich in 90 minutes and Ipswich in 60 minutes – but yesterday’s meeting at Witham was aimed at focussing on how these improved speeds would benefit commuters from Essex.

Ms Patel said: “It was a very positive meeting, and we are making great progress. It was very important to hear from the business community and from commuters.”

She felt it was vital that the county’s needs were not forgotten in the talk about improving longer-distance trains.

“I have always emphasised this is not just about reaching Norwich in 90 or Ipswich in 60 – it is about improving the line for all the users.”

She had brought up the needs of Essex travellers in meetings with Chancellor George Osborne and Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin who had supported the establishment of the task force.

There have been fears from some Essex travellers that InterCity trains could be speeded up by passing through more stations in the county without stopping.

The meeting was supported by Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, who is chairing the task force alongside Mark Pendlington from New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

Officials from Network Rail and train operator Abellio Greater Anglia were also on hand to meet business and commuter groups at the meeting.

The task force is looking at three key areas which are integral to future service upgrades – infrastructure, trains, and timetables.

It is working to build a firm case for more investment that it can take to the Department for Transport in a bid secure more investment as part of a new long-term Greater Anglia franchise which is due to start in October 2016.

Among improvements being developed are hopes of an extra track between Chelmsford and Witham to ease congestion and new faster trains with better acceleration.

Jonathan Denby of Abellio Greater Anglia said: “Today was a very helpful event which will help strengthen further the business case and support for upgrading the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML).

“Everyone involved in the Task force is fully committed to achieving both longer term major upgrades and practical shorter term improvements.

“There is strong support from the business community, MPs, local authorities, rail user groups and other stakeholders all the way along the line.

“This backing will be crucial in helping to secure the necessary future investment for upgrades to infrastructure and rolling stock.”

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