Port rail network in spotlight

RAIL bosses were today celebrating a £40 million investment – but port chiefs were set to bend their ears over what really needs to be done to the network.

RAIL bosses were today celebrating a £40 million investment ­- but port chiefs were set to bend their ears over what really needs to be done to the network.

Transport Minister Charlotte Atkins was visiting Felixstowe to place the first of the new 9ft 6in high containers on a train to go through the Ipswich Tunnel, where the track was lowered this summer to cope with the bigger boxes.

The £5m tunnel work was part of a £40m upgrade of the London-bound freight cargo route, used by the majority of the port's trains.

In a bizarre ceremony, the work was marked 12 miles away from where the largest part of it in this area had been done.

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But while the scheme to allow bigger boxes has been welcomed, port executives' main concern is that work starts as soon as possible on upgrading the Felixstowe to Nuneaton (F2N) cross-country route.

Strategic Rail Authority chiefs claim the work is an upgrade of the F2N route and say trains can reach the north by going via London.

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Of the port's 21 trains out and 22 in during a day only four go cross-country and the rest all go via London - though the route is already congested both with freight and passenger trains competing for track space.

The port has been set tough targets by government to increase the amount of rail cargo and get lorries off the roads and is aiming to have 26 per cent go by train by 2023 - 1.1 million standard-sized boxes compared with 350,000 now.

It is looking to dual five miles of the single-track Felixstowe to Ipswich line, but also needs the F2N work to get more trains away.

SRA spokesman Jonty Alone said the authority wanted to upgrade both routes but it was facing budget constraints and had to make a choice of which to do first and chose the busier London route.

It was intended to do the cross-country route as soon as cash became available and this would then take the pressure off the busy London area.

However, it was possible for trains to reach Nuneaton and destinations in the north and Scotland via the London route.

He said: "We are doing feasibility and planning studies for the cross-country route but the reality of the situation is that in terms of the government spending review and the authority's financial situation, we cannot do everything at once.

"We are committed to the cross-country route but work was needed to the London route, too, and we have now done the first half of the whole project."

n. What do you think of the plans? Write to us at Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or email eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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