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Rail chaos hits VIP visits

PUBLISHED: 13:48 15 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 March 2010

IT WAS the day when Ipswich was preparing to put itself on show . . . but the region's rail network derailed all the best intentions.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith was one of a number of high-profile visitors to the town whose awayday plans were shunted into the sidings by signalling failure in Essex today.

IT WAS the day when Ipswich was preparing to put itself on show . . . but the region's rail network derailed all the best intentions.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith was one of a number of high-profile visitors to the town whose awayday plans were shunted into the sidings by signalling failure in Essex today.

They were given a first-hand demonstration of the chaos on the country's rail system after being stranded for nearly two hours en route to Ipswich following a signal failure.

Trains in both directions were brought to a halt – as engineers struggled to sort out the problem.

Mr Duncan Smith, who was travelling to Ipswich to boost his party's by-election effort, was due in town by 9am – but at that time was still stuck in a queue of trains at Shenfield.

After boarding the 8.00am train, he arrived at 11 am – almost exactly two hours late.

"I am furious. This has caused us a great deal of inconvenience – not only to me but the other people on these trains and the people we are due to be meeting," he said from the train.

"This kind of problem is a direct result of government policies. Since the Labour Party came to power the amount that has been spent on railway maintenance is down by £2 billion from what was planned.

"Now they have placed Railtrack into administration, they have lost the confidence of private sector investors.

"The rail network needs £34 billion of investment, but after scaring off the private sector, where is that money going to come from?"

As well as Mr Duncan Smith, a team from BBC television was also on the train – as was Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis.

Anglia Railways' spokesman Peter Meades said the cause of the failure was believed to be a cable fault supplying power to the Witham area.

"It took engineers about 90 minutes to identify the cause of the problem, it was a major fault," he said.

He added that signal was the responsibility of Railtrack, the company in charge of the railway infrastructure which was recently put into administration by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

Following the controversial decision which effectively re-nationalised a crucial part of the rail system, Mr Byers has faced repeated calls to resign – led by the Conservatives – after allegations that he threatened to sack independent rail regulator Tom Winsor if he tried to intervene.

After he did arrive at Ipswich, Mr Duncan Smith accompanied Tory candidate Paul West to the Barrack Lane Medical Centre.

There he questioned doctors and staff about their concerns about health care in Ipswich.

Led by senior GP Doctor Michael Freestone, they described the burden of government targets on a service in which the work load is increasing and the resources diminishing.

Bed-blocking and bed shortages too were issues Mr Duncan Smith was keen to find out about. Dr Freestone told Mr Duncan Smith that Ipswich was the "poor Cinderella" when it came to government funding as money seemed to go to Cambridge first, Norfolk second and Suffolk third.

After speaking with the doctors Mr Duncan Smith said: "We will put up a good fight, we happen to have an excellent candidate in Paul West who works, and lives locally."

Before touring the medical centre, he said: "It will be fantastic for this town which is justifiably proud of itself to have a local candidate."

Adding that Ipswich doesn't need "just another rubber stamper".

Mr Duncan Smith was forced to cancel a morale-boosting visit to the Tory troops because of the problems on the railway.

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