Transport chief's 'no' to fast trains

HOPES of building a new high-speed rail line from London to East Anglia were today dismissed by Ipswich's transport chief.

HOPES of building a new high-speed rail line from London to East Anglia were today dismissed by Ipswich's transport chief.

Paul West said rail chiefs would be better off spending money to make the existing services more reliable than trying to shave 20 minutes off the journey time to the capital.

Norwich City Council is trying to get a seal of approval from councils across Norfolk to create the high-speed train link which would help boost tourism and improve business links.

The council said today it was in “very early stages” but a high-level debate on how it could be achieved has already begun.

Mr West, Ipswich Council's transport spokesman said: “I wouldn't argue with that as an aspiration, but I don't think it is realistic and I would rather see money spent on making the current service more reliable.

“If people knew they could rely on the service from Ipswich to London taking an hour it would be far better than seeking to build a high-speed line which will probably remain a pipedream for years ahead.

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“I cannot see anyone preparing to spend the kind of money that would be required for a high-speed link, not in the next ten to 15 years anyway.”

Plans were initially mooted by Norwich council in a response to the East of England Development Agency's draft regional economic strategy.

Amy Lyall, a city council spokesman, said: “Norwich City Council aspires to see a one-hour journey time by train between London and Norwich.”

In order to achieve the one-hour journey time it is likely the region's railway infrastructure would have to be overhauled to be able to take Pendolino-style trains, currently used by Virgin, which can reach speeds of up to 125mph and safely “lean” around curves up to 20pc faster.

A spokesman for Network Rail said it would be “very willing to sit down and discuss” the plan with the council, but warned it would be an extremely complicated project.

The Department of Transport said its five-year priority was to increase capacity on the railways, rather than speed, but it would be happy to take any business case for the high-speed scheme into consideration for its next five-year plan.

Ipswich council's doubts about the proposal are shared by the official passenger watchdog, Passenger Focus.

Spokesman Guy Dangerfield said: “I don't want to be too dismissive, but who would pay for such a massive investment? Really the priority should be to get the trains working properly as they are.

“Train journeys between London and East Anglia now take longer than they did ten years ago and the

priority must be on improving existing services rather than something like this, which is rather unrealistic.”

N Is it worth trying to speed up the trains? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail