Suffolk/Essex: East of England’s rail services worst in country, report says
PUBLISHED: 08:00 09 December 2013
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The rail network serving Suffolk is the poorest in the country, according to a new report out today.
A study by the Campaign for Better Transport and consultancy firm, Credo, has found that rail services in East Anglia are being held back by a relatively sparse network which makes services inaccessible to many.
It also notes that the region receives the lowest level of relative funding for rail services.
But this could help it “to make the strongest case for more funds providing that they can show clear action plans for how these funds will be deployed to improve the service,” the report says.
Transport chiefs - including operator Greater Anglia and Network Rail - last night said they were committed to providing the best service possible.
In the report researchers said that although growth and usage of rail services in the East of England scored a middling 40%, the region ranked bottom for service quality at 23%, and network accessibility at 17%.
Overall the region’s rail services scored 26%, two percentage points below the next lowest regions which were the North East and Wales.
Last night Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell said an area which had become an “economic powerhouse” was being starved of vital infrastructure funding.
“The fact is that the East of England railway service is being underfunded by successive governments,” he said.
“Regrettably I have already expressed my displeasure to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander at how the infrastructure projects announced in the Autumn Statement, so far as the rail infrastructure for my constituents there is nothing, not even the passing loop between Chelmsford and Hatfield Peverel which would enable goods trains and slow moving trains to move over to allow fast moving trains through.
“Successive governments have starved the East of England. We are an economic dynamo, and economic powerhouse but we are not getting the infrastructure we need.”
David Bigg of Witham and Braintree Passengers Association said the findings would be no surprise to people in north Essex, “the question is what we are going to do about it?”
Mr Bigg was sceptical of the report’s suggestion that control over the railway network be decentralised.
“If devolution means more bureaucracy the answer is an emphatic ‘no’. What we would like to see is a streamlined management with decision makers at strategic points of the network. So for example if there’s disruption, information gets to passengers quickly and if you need a replacement the vehicles that are available get to the point of need as soon as possible.”
Last night, Graham Newman, cabinet member for roads and transport at Suffolk County Council, said the east’s railways suffered “chronic under-investment” compared other areas outside London.
“That’s despite the fact that East Anglia remains the only other net contributor to HM Treasury outside London and the South East,” he said. “The East Anglian Rail Prospectus, promoted by a consortium of Members of Parliament, Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities along the route of the Great Eastern Main Line, calls for new rolling stock and investment in track and signalling to enable routine journey times of 90 minutes from Norwich to London and one hour from Ipswich to London.
“The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on a recent visit to East Anglia, has announced a special task force to see these proposals through over the next decade.
“Indeed major works at the London end of the route, together with some refurbishment of existing rolling stock, have already been announced.”
Ipswich MP Ben Gummer agreed that under investment in East Anglia’s rail infrastructure had to stop.
“It’s not fair on commuters, it’s not fair on local businesses and it’s not fair on travellers,” he said.
But he said the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement heralded “the most significant investment in railway since the Second World War.”
“I’m confident now that we have got MPs willing to fight for more infrastructure investment we will get the kind of investment we need to make our economy even stronger,” he added.
London gained the highest overall score in the report, at 59%, followed by the North West and West Midlands.
The study collated information from the Department of Transport, Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation as well as analysing responses to the National Passenger Survey.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive for the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The research exposes the huge disparities in the quality of train services across the country. Importantly, it suggests the answer is to give local administrations more control over their rail networks.”
A spokesperson for Greater Anglia said since taking over last year they had improved customer satisfaction and would continue to concentrate efforts to further enhance performance, working in close partnership with Network Rail. He added that the survey also reflected Greater Anglia’s contribution to London’s railway system, which was ranked top in the country.
A Network Rail spokesman said they were investing heavily in expanding and enhancing the railway, while a spokesman for the Department for Transport said they were committed to improving transport across the whole of the country.
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