June 18 2013 Latest news:
By Paul Geater Additional research by Alexander Dack
Thursday, June 14, 2012
MORE than a million more people visited rail stations serving communities in Suffolk and north Essex last year in comparison to 2010 according to figures from the official rail regulator.
Footfall statistics – recording the number of people using stations – show that the number passing through stations increased by nearly 7%.
The number increased from just over 14.6 million in 2009/10 to 15.6m in 2010/11. Over a four-year period the number increase from 14.4m in 2007/8.
There had been a dip in the number of people using stations in 2009/10 at the height of the recession, with overall numbers increasing by 6.8% during the last year.
Footfall does not record those who actually travel on trains – it also catches those who visit stations for other reasons such as picking up or dropping off passengers.
However these figures do give a strong indication of travelling trends.
There are, however, distinct differences – while the number of people using stations in Suffolk increased significantly, in Essex there was a larger drop in numbers at the height of the recession.
Footfall numbers in places like Colchester and Manningtree had not recovered to 2007 numbers by 2011.
However stations in Suffolk did show a significant rise. The number of people visiting Ipswich station increased by 7% between 2007 and 2011, and by 8.3% between 2010 and 2011.
In the last year there was a significant rise in the number of people visiting stations on the line between Ipswich and Cambridge – with a 13% rise in the number of people visiting Stowmarket (the second busiest Suffolk station) and an 11.8% increase in the number of people visiting Bury St Edmunds station.
This coincided with National Express East Anglia introducing more comfortable “Turbostar” trains on the route during that year.
Cambridge station remains the busiest in the region by a significant margin, with the number of passengers increasing from fractionally under 7m in 2007 to 8.2m by last year – and passenger numbers continued to increase during the recession.
The figures show up a few quirky statistics. Lakenheath station on the line between Ely and Norwich is some distance from the town of the same name and it is only used by a few Sunday trains taking birdwatchers to the Lakenheath Fen nature reserve.
But the least-used station in the region is Buckenham in Norfolk on the line between Norwich and Lowestoft. It is only served by a few trains at the weekend, again mainly to serve nearby nature reserves, and in 2010/11 was used by only 106 people – but that is an increase on 2005/6 when it was only used by 22 people!
IPSWICH MP Ben Gummer said the figures would be very useful for regional MPs who are trying to persuade the Department of Transport to invest more in East Anglia’s rail network.
He has linked up with colleagues in Essex and Norfolk to try to ensure that when the franchise for Greater Anglia is re-awarded in 2014, significant investment in the route will be seen.
He said: “For years this region has suffered under-investment in its rail network and we have seen sticking-plaster solutions to major problems.
“These figures really do show the importance of getting major investment into the rail network – it is essential for the region and more and more people are using the trains.
“It also shows that people are prepared to use the trains to travel further to their work than they may have done in the past.”
The East Anglian figures were compiled by the pressure group Rail Future, whose regional chairman Peter Wakefield said they showed the value of investment.
He said: “It is significant that there was a major growth on the line between Ipswich and Cambridge where better trains came in a couple of years ago.
“I would expect to see similar increases on the East Suffolk Line when the Beccles loop is completed, there are already big increases on the southern part of the line where services were increased.”
Mr Wakefield pointed out that a new platform had been built at Cambridge station to handle increased passenger numbers, and said it would be necessary to consider a similar move at Ipswich.
“I know councillors and the MP has already talked about this. If the number of people using the station continues to rise it will become increasingly necessary.”
A spokesman for rail operator Greater Anglia said: “The increases in passenger numbers in these figures reflects the positive growth seen in the demand for rail travel in many parts of the region over recent years, and recognises the improvement in service frequency for routes such as Ipswich to Cambridge.
“Elsewhere in Suffolk, the completion of the Beccles loop works later this year will pave the way for the introduction of an hourly timetable throughout between Ipswich and Lowestoft from December 2012.
“We will continue to work with our rail industry partners and key stakeholders in making the case to further develop train services in the region.”
Commuter Chris Towndrow is keeping a diary of his journeys for the EADT, and said he welcomed the figures but hoped they would persuade the authorities that investment was needed.
He said: “These figures refer to the time before the present franchise started, but it is clear that more people are using the trains.
“That has to lead to more investment in the services. I know these figures do not show the number of passengers but it is not unreasonable to suggest that they show more people are using the train – and with the extra money they bring in there needs to be improvements.”
In the table, Cambridge, Norwich, Peterborough, and Buckenham figures are included for illustration purposes only and are not included in the total for the EADT readership area.