Now make life easier for passengers

NEWS that the owner of rail company 'one' had won the right to run trains on the East Coast Main Line for the next eight years came as something of a surprise.

NEWS that the owner of rail company 'one' had won the right to run trains on the East Coast Main Line for the next eight years came as something of a surprise.

National Express has so far had a pretty miserable year. Its Silverlink, Central and Midland Mainline franchises are being abolished and being replaced by new East and West Midlands franchises.

It had been expected to win one, or possible both, of them - but ended up with neither.

In fact by the start of this week the only services NX were guaranteed to run by the end of the year were 'one' and the London-Southend service C2C.

But the east coast route is considered the jewel in the crown of the British rail network - and it's the one all the companies really want to run.

One NX employee told me: “I think some of the bosses were disappointed to miss out on the Midlands franchises, but this is one hell of a consolation prize.”

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Having watched the franchise programme from the outside, I can't help feeling that although the franchises were allocated at separate times they were all decided together.

Whoever got the east coast main line was unlikely to get any other franchise because it is such a plum operation.

What now, though, remains to be seen is whether the new National Express East Coast route will lead to knock-on improvements for East Anglian passengers.

In particular an hourly service from Ipswich to Peterborough to link in with its high speed trains to Edinburgh, and the north of England would be very welcome.

The quality of trains on this line has improved significantly (when they aren't disrupted by the broken bridge at Ely). Now we just need more of them to make travel easier.

And easier ticketing for people wanting to travel from this part of the world to the rest of the country would be a great help.

It is becoming easier to book tickets on the web, but it would be good if the kind of £6 deals you can now get if you travel to London on Tuesday afternoon four weeks in advance were extended up the east coast.

I know people moan about rail fares, but if you book in advance there are some good deals out there - and with one company running trains all the way from Ipswich to Inverness it should be easier to book.

So I'm giving two cheers for the news - and I'm waiting with interest to see exactly what difference the new service makes to our rail services.

HOLDING a “primary” election to choose the Conservative's next candidate to fight the Ipswich seat in a general election is certainly a new departure for British politics.

The idea has been tried and tested elsewhere in the country, but this is the first time we have seen it in Suffolk and it is bound to attract a great deal of attention across the area.

The candidate who has immediately attracted the most attention is, of course, Benedict Gummer - son of Suffolk Coastal MP John.

And that could revive one of the legendary Suffolk political battles - the Gummers versus the Canns!

I first met Benedict (as he was then called) many years ago, although he probably doesn't remember me! I met his father at a Saturday morning event in his constituency and young lad was running around with his family as his father tried to keep them in order while I interviewed him.

So his application to stand for parliament for my adopted home town makes me feel really old!

Ben Gummer has no lack of enthusiasm for politics in general and the Conservative Party in particular.

At the last general election he was running around the Suffolk Coastal count at the police headquarters in high excitement telling anyone who would listen that the Tories were about to capture Ipswich.

I was at the Corn Exchange and got a call from a colleague at the Martlesham count to ask me if it was really true - at which stage it was quite clear that Labour's Chris Mole was well ahead in the race.

If Ben Gummer does win the nomination it will be interesting to see how often his father visits the town to support him.

Too many visits will make it look as if voters will be merely voting for a junior version of the Suffolk Coastal MP, too few visits will just look strange.

John Gummer and the late Ipswich MP Jamie Cann disliked each other with a legendary ferocity and during the 1992 campaign, when Mr Gummer was a leading cabinet minister, his absence from the campaign in a marginal seat next to his own was very telling.

When they were both in parliament, their exchanges were always very sharp and it was clear they both disliked each other.

If Ben Gummer does fight the Ipswich seat, he could well be facing Andrew Cann who has hopes of fighting for the Liberal Democrats in the town.

I am delighted to report that battle is unlikely to be too bruising - Andrew Cann told me he felt John Gummer made a reasonable fist of his last government job as environment secretary and has no reason to dislike his son.

Of course the real point is that any battle between Gummer junior and Cann junior for Ipswich at the next general election is likely to be for second place.

Whoever the Tories and the LibDems pick to fight will have a major battle on their hands to overturn Chris Mole's 5,000 majority.