Vital rail work delayed
VITAL work to take more lorries of Suffolk's roads and increase cargo travelling by rail has been delayed by a year.The decision by the cash-strapped Strategic Rail Authority to put the crucial multi-million pound Felixstowe-Nuneaton cross-country freight rail project on hold has been attacked by a group promoting business in the region.
VITAL work to take more lorries off Suffolk's roads and increase cargo travelling by rail has been delayed by a year.
The decision by the cash-strapped Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), to put the crucial multi-million pound Felixstowe-Nuneaton cross-country freight rail project to the midlands on hold has been attacked by a group promoting business in the region.
But today the SRA assured The Evening Star that the project has not been axed, simply delayed.
A spokesman said work on the scheme was due to have started in the 2004-2005 financial year – not this year as had earlier been suggested – and would now not start until 2005 at the earliest.
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However, work would start on the upgrading of the Felixstowe-Ipswich line – a necessary part of the scheme to Nuneaton – and improvements for freight on the Ipswich-London main line to allow cargo to go via north London.
But the Haven Gateway Partnership, which works to promote the Ipswich, Felixstowe and Harwich area, expressed its dismay and astonishment at the delay.
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Partnership chairman George Courtauld said: "Infrastructure is of critical importance to the partnership.
"In particular, we are concerned with the need to improve significantly the road and rail systems of the Haven Gateway region, these being vital for the maintenance and enhancement of the competitiveness of our ports.
"The Partnership recently received a presentation by the SRA about the funding for the improvement of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton rail link, particularly in modernising the route so that it can take the increasing numbers of 9ft 6in maritime containers. We were assured the SRA regarded this improvement as one of its priorities, and that work would start this year.
"We have now been informed that the scheme is to be delayed in a cost-cutting move by the SRA: we are dismayed and astonished by this decision.
"The Felixstowe to Nuneaton rail link is crucial to support the further development of the ports, and as a necessary element towards our targets of increasing the amount of freight moved by rail and off the roads."
He has sent a letter of protest to the SRA, MEPs and MPs asking for the decision to be reviewed urgently.
The work on the route, via Bury St Edmunds and Peterborough, is needed to enable the Port of Felixstowe to handle increasing numbers of high-cube maritime containers. At present, expensive low-loading wagons have to be used.
Not everyone though is unhappy at the decision and Freightliner, which moves the largest number of sea-trade containers across the UK every year, believes the improvements to the Ipswich-London track will be of great benefit.
It will mean it can get extra trains onto the tracks – it has launched a further daily rail service from Felixstowe recently – and more boxes off the roads.
There are though concerns about putting more freight onto the London line, which already has a congested timetable because of the huge number of passenger trains which use it.