ABOUT £1.4 billion is to be spent improving the rail link between the region and London over the next five years.

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Bosses at Network Rail expect the investment to make services more reliable and faster – and should pave the way to increasing capacity.

Ambitious proposals to build a third track to ease congestion between Chelmsford and Witham have not been included – although could emerge in future five year plans.

Network Rail Anglia route director Dave Ward said there were several challenges facing the operation of the line.

There were issues with capacity – it is not easy to fit any more trains into the timetable – track and points need replacing, and there were long-term ambitions to reduce journey times.

Mr Ward said: “What we are looking at here is putting in place the building blocks that should make the network more resilient and make some improvements which we can work on over future years.”

The total investment on the region’s railways should total £2.2 billion over the next five years, with about 70% of that going on the Great Eastern main line.

MPs and local authorities have drawn up a manifesto for the main line which calls for trains from London to routinely reach Ipswich in 60 minutes and Norwich in 90 minutes.

Mr Ward pointed out that a few trains already made the journey between London and Ipswich in 60 minutes, and said the state of the track was not the main issue – it was ensuring that they had a clear run.

Running trains from London to Norwich in 90 minutes was more problematic because there were a number of level crossings north of Ipswich which require trains to run at lower speeds.

Mr Ward said Network Rail would be working with local authorities to change 154 level crossings over the next five years.

Since 2009 90 level crossings in the region have been closed in East Anglia: “In many cases where there are rural level crossings, there is another crossing within a quarter to half a mile.

“Many are part of rights of way that existed long before the railway was built, but we need to work with local people and local authorities to make changes to benefit everyone.”

The Network Rail programme includes major improvements to Bow Junction, just south of Stratford station in East London which should make the approach to Liverpool Street more reliable.

A new station will be built at Beaulieu Park just north of Chelmsford, and there should be improvements to track and points along the route.

Mr Ward said: “We are looking at changing some of the tracks at Ipswich, Colchester, and Witham stations. This work would be particularly challenging because we want to work with the rail operator to ensure trains can continue to run while the work is going on.”

He said reliability had improved on the route over the last year, and was keen to ensure that continued.

“We have seen the reliability improve from 91% to 92.2% – it might not sound a great improvement, but over a 12-month period it is quite significant.”

One way of improving capacity on the line to London was to move freight trains away from the busy passenger route – which was now possible with the improvements to the cross-country line.

Most of the freight trains from Felixstowe are heading to the midlands, north of England, or Scotland and there is no need for them to head to London.

Until now freight operators have been reluctant to move their services away from the main line – but during the Olympics and Paralympics many freight services were moved away from the capital.

“During that time about 40% of freight went cross country and the companies found there was no major problem – so we may work with them to try to move more to those routes.”

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