New £47m rail link for Ipswich
09:00 19 November 2009
A MAJOR engineering project costing up to £47m to enable freight trains from Felixstowe to avoid the Olympic Games site is expected to start next year in Ipswich.
The scheme involves the construction of a tightly curved viaduct to link the East Suffolk line with the route to Norwich at the Hadleigh Road bridge.
Once built, it will allow more container trains to use the Ipswich to Peterborough route through Bury St Edmunds, which in turn will free up capacity for additional passenger services to London.
The only major decision that has yet to be made is whether the new viaduct should be single track, costing £32m. or double track, which comes in at £47m.
Network Rail has sent the design brief out for tender and is about to embark on a public consultation exercise involving the county council, Ipswich borough and Babergh district.
Although the project has been on the drawing board for at least a decade, it has now moved to the top of the priority list as a result of London hosting the 2012 Olympics.
Currently, most freight trains to and from the north of England and Scotland are routed via east and north London because there is no link at Ipswich to the alternative option of travelling from Nuneaton and Peterborough.
Trains which do follow that route have to be shunted at the goods yards in Ipswich, and this involves using extra locomotives.
Suffolk county council's transport portfolio holder Guy McGregor attended a meeting in Cambridge this week, and says he is “amazed and absolutely delighted” that the project is not only a top priority but that it could be built and open for trains within the next two years.
The project has taken on a new urgency because freight trains use a route which skirts the site of the Olympic Games at Stratford in East London. The last thing organisers want is long, slow moving, noisy diesel hauled trains passing close to 2012 venues.
“Suffolk county council has been advocating this scheme for many years, but to be told suddenly that design work is at an advanced stage was a major surprise - in fact, I'm gobsmacked,” said Mr McGregor.
“The Felixstowe to Nuneaton rail route is part of the European Union's trans-European network (TEN) of major transport arteries. The EU is contributing to the cost of upgrading the route, and this has freed up Network Rail cash to pay for the viaduct chord.”
It is understood that the tight curve of the viaduct - known as the Bacon Curve because it will be built through the former Harris bacon plant on the Hadleigh Road industrial estate - will restrict trains to 30mph.
Mr McGregor said: “Once completed, electrification will be easier and this will be to the benefit of the environment. It will also remove the need for a major investment in a new generation of diesel traction which would have been needed for freight services in the region.”
A section of the route in Cambridgeshire is also likely to be improved. This will involve doubling the track from Soham to Ely and the reopening of Soham railway station.
Even if work has not been completed by the Olympics, plans are being considered to block freight trains from using the London route for the duration of the Games.