Rail company to check crowding

SUFFOLK: Rail bosses have promised to monitor how many passengers are using rush-hour services between Cambridge and Ipswich after passengers complained of serious overcrowding on local services.

And now MPs from across the region, spurred on by Ben Gummer from Ipswich, have written to the Transport Secretary to demand major investment in the main line to London.

The 6.41am from Cambridge to Ipswich is only a single-car train, and what has been a busy train over the last 18 months has become a real crush after students returned to college at the end of the summer holidays

Regular traveller Lesley Bird travels every day from Thurston to work in Ipswich.

She said: “I’ve been doing the journey since April last year and it has always been quite busy because it gets into Ipswich just after 8am – a good time for people getting to work.


You may also want to watch:


“But recently it’s been getting more and more full. And with the start of the school term there’s been a big increase in the number of youngsters going, I think, to Suffolk One.

“So many of them get on at Stowmarket and Needham Market that the conductor cannot get through the train – so people have to buy a ticket when they’ve travelled to Ipswich which is inconvenient.”

Most Read

A spokesman for National Express East Anglia said the train had always been a single carriage, and the company had not been aware of any problems.

He added: “We’re grateful for the feedback received regarding the 06.41 Cambridge to Ipswich service. We will closely monitor the operation of this service over the next few days.”

The company might encourage people travelling from Stowmarket to Ipswich to use other trains – there is a frequent service with trains from Peterborough and Norwich also using the station as well as the Cambridge trains.

Meanwhile Mr Gummer persuaded all 16 MPs from across Suffolk and Norfolk – Tories and LibDems – to sign a letter demanding improvements to the main line.

He said: “As MP for Ipswich I know how vital the link to London is. We have to fight to make sure it is not forgotten when improvements are made.

“We are absolutely united in this – as the government looks at improving rail services this area must not be forgotten.”

Do you suffer from crowded trains? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

The letter from MPs in full:

Rt Hon. Philip Hammond MP,

Secretary of State for Transport

Great Minster House

76 Marsham Street

London SW1P 4DR

September 2011

Investment in Great Eastern Main Line

We are writing to you as the Members of Parliament for constituencies in Suffolk and Norfolk, which affected by decades of underinvestment in the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML). This letter follows a letter already sent by Norfolk’s Members of Parliament on the same issue.

For many decades, indeed for more than a century, Suffolk and Norfolk have suffered from a lack in infrastructure spending. Although the East of England is one of only a few regions that are net contributors to HM Treasury, successive governments have failed to invest in road and rail in the two eastern-most counties of that region. Suffolk and Norfolk are areas of considerable enterprise, innovation and economic growth, yet businesses, entrepreneurs and local people are becoming comparatively isolated from London. As a result, the potential of our two counties to contribute even more to the UK economy is being retarded. This is a tragedy: so much enterprise could so easily be unlocked if our transport links were more reliable, rapid, comfortable and business-friendly. The East of England could provide even more wealth and prosperity to the UK economy and those areas of our counties that are deprived could be offered new opportunities.

The government has already made a promising start in addressing this historical disparity by providing the funding for the dualling of the A11. This will make a big difference to the road links between London and north Suffolk and Norfolk. We are also very glad that the government has agreed to provide much needed funding for the upgrade of rail infrastructure between Felixstowe and Nuneaton. This is another step in the right direction towards unlocking the full economic potential of the Eastern Region.

However, the key problem we encounter as Members of Parliament is that of the quality of the mainline railway service between London and Norwich. It is prone to signal and overhead catenary failures; trains are second-hand – old, frequently crowded and without many business amenities seen elsewhere; and services have seen little or no reduction in journey times over the last fifty years.

In the next few months you and Network Rail will make a number of decisions that will decide the level of rail investment we and other parts of the country can hope to see over the next ten years, as the process for agreeing Control Period 5 funding and investment plans begins in earnest with the formation of the Initial Industry Plan. In this letter we give the basic level of investment that we, as the two counties’ MPs, wish to see for our mainline. We have consulted with both Network Rail and the current franchise holder, National Express, and believe therefore that each of our demands is both technically feasible and affordable within the spending envelope devolved to Network Rail. The real question is one of priority: will the Great Eastern Main Line be forgotten once again or will we have the kind of investment that other parts of the country have been fortunate enough to see?

Speed, Capacity and Infrastructure

Objective: the journey between London and Ipswich must be made in regular services in under sixty minutes; between London and Norwich in ninety minutes.

The two track section of railway between Shenfield and Colchester is one of the busiest in the country, running at full capacity at peak periods. Yet it is still used, during peak hours, by slow freight trains. This situation has been made worse by the recent introduction of Class 70 locomotives by Freightliner, which has enabled that company to lengthen trains from 24 to 30 wagons, making them too long to use the passing loops provided on this busy two line section. As well as this constraint causing frequent delays, it also has the effect of reducing the effective or ruling line speeds to 70 mph. Contrast this situation with most other intercity routes where the top speed is usually 125 mph and average speeds are usually between 90 and 100mph.

This problem would be solved if the four tracks running to Shenfield were extended all the way to Colchester. Freight and passenger trains could travel at their own optimal speeds and those commuter trains which stop frequently would no longer prevent express trains from travelling at high speed between main stations. The resulting increase in capacity between Colchester and London would be substantial, ensuring that the forecast increase in freight volumes passing through the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich will be fully absorbed. In addition, it would mean that any increase in frequency and speed of trains to Ipswich and Norwich would not be at the expense of regular commuter trains to London from Colchester.

Furthermore, the line between Ipswich and Norwich requires additional investment in track, signalling and level crossings to allow trains to run at 125mph, ensuring that the journey between Norwich and London could be completed in ninety minutes and between London and Ipswich in sixty. Even the current intercity trains are capable of 110 mph, but nowhere does the current infrastructure allow them to run at over 100mph.

Work already undertaken in a study by Atkins to Department for Transport guidelines (commissioned by the East of England Development Agency) has clearly demonstrated that there would be �3.7billion worth of economic benefits generated in the East of England (primarily in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk) from such an upgrade of the GEML. An earlier Economic Evidence Study by EEDA also showed that the transport corridor which would generate the greatest business benefits from an upgrade in the East of England region is the GEML. Furthermore, it is clear that Essex would benefit most from such an upgrade, so our aspirations in Suffolk and Norfolk align with (not against) those of our colleagues at the southern end of the route – whose desire for extra capacity can be best met by the infrastructure improvements outlined above.

Three other key infrastructure points are worth making. First, we need urgent work by Network Rail to make the overhead lines more resilient to hot weather in advance of the Olympics, which led the whole line to seize up most recently on Monday 27th June. Secondly, the completion of the overhead line renewal project south of Chelmsford needs to be speeded up. When it was agreed in 2006, following a series of hugely disruptive “dewirements”, it was meant to be completed by Network Rail before the Olympics. Now we are told the scheme will not be finished until 2014/15. This is simply too slow. Thirdly, when engineering work is taking place, we need work planned in a way to allow more trains to run and involve less bus substitution, plus more intelligent use of possession planning to reduce the number of weekends affected by disruptive engineering work. Selective longer blockades might be acceptable if they clearly speeded up the upgrade and delivered better infrastructure reliability (which usually accounts for 60-70% of delays on the route).

Rolling Stock

Objective: comfortable, reliable and business-friendly rolling stock.

For decades travellers in Suffolk and Norfolk have had to put up with rolling stock long since thought unsuitable on other routes and then cascaded to the GEML. Currently the GEML is relying on slam door coaches inherited from the West Coast Main Line, many of which are now well over thirty years old and which, as a result of a very basic Greater Anglia franchise specification in 2003/04, only received a like-for-like refurbishment, rather than a major upgrade, at the start of the current franchise term.

Yet despite the obvious need for investment in rolling stock, the Great Eastern Main Line has not been included in the Intercity Express Programme. The East Coast Main Line (ECML), on the other hand, is included in the IEP, despite the fact that at present, it takes almost the same amount of time to travel the 115 miles between Norwich and London along the GEML as it does to travel the 188 miles between York and London on the ECML. We struggle to understand why the Cambridge to London route is included in the IEP but the GEML is not. Should the GEML continue to be excluded from the IEP, the result will surely be to bring places much further north of London than Norwich closer to the capital than we in the eastern counties can now expect to be.

We hope that the Department for Transport will reconsider its decision not to include the GEML in the IEP, or that it will work closely with the new franchise holder to secure a commitment for an early introduction of similar express type trains to replace current second hand rolling stock. In addition, if the current intercity trains are to be retained for anything more than the next couple of years, they should be the subject of a major refurbishment programme, which not only retains the positive features of the existing trains (in terms of spacious environment, air conditioning, catering and recently introduced Wi-Fi facilities), but also sees customer aspirations for plug points and automatic exterior doors realised as well as better cleanliness throughout.

Franchise

Objective: a franchise that provides considerable incentives for collaboration between track and train operators, and investment in both.

We welcome the government’s commitment to a fifteen year franchise as a vital step in providing incentives to franchise holders to invest in services. However, it is of some concern that in earlier (aborted) bidding rounds some tenderers did not think fifteen years sufficient to permit investment in new rolling stock. We ask that the government gives the maximum financial and contractual flexibility within the new franchise so that whoever wins the contract can commit the sums necessary to realise the very considerable infrastructure, rolling stock and property improvements that are required along the Great Eastern Main Line. Moreover, the franchise should be constructed to ensure that the benefits come in the earlier part of the period – new rolling stock and track investment – not at the end. There should also be an opportunity for the winner of the short Greater Anglia franchise competition to work with Network Rail on more detailed infrastructure and service upgrade feasibility work during the short term franchise, so we don’t lose momentum over the next three years – a practical objective the Department could consider as it finalises the deal with the successful bidder.

Finally, we should re-state that it is desirable that this new fifteen year franchise begins as early as possible so that our constituents should wait no longer than is necessary for the improvements they so clearly deserve.

We recognise that these demands are costly. We recognise also that budgets are extremely tight. But we ask that the GEML be not forgotten once again, that it receives the investment it so desperately needs, so that our constituencies can continue to grow and prosper and contribute more still to the economy as a whole. If we miss the opportunities presented in developing and finalising both the upcoming longer Greater Anglia franchise specification and Network Rail’s Control Period 5 investment programme, we will lose out on many of the additional economic benefits that can be generated in our region – which in turn would support greater, sustainable prosperity not only in East Anglia, but also the wider UK economy.

Ben Gummer MP

and

Peter Aldous MP Dr Daniel Poulter MP

Richard Bacon MP David Ruffley MP

Henry Bellingham MP Keith Simpson MP

Dr Th�r�se Coffey MP Chloe Smith MP

George Freeman MP Elizabeth Truss MP

Matthew Hancock MP Simon Wright MP

Norman Lamb MP Tim Yeo MP

Brandon Lewis MP

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter