Cash is available for West Norfolk rail improvements, says minister

King's Lynn Railway Station ENGANL00120111114141317
King's Lynn Railway Station ENGANL00120111114141317
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Money has been put aside to fund improvements to West Norfolk’s rail services, despite delays to a key upgrade of the line, the government says.

The claim has been made in a letter from rail minister Claire Perry to North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, which has been published today.

Sir Henry welcomed the commitment, saying: “Improving our rail service is one of my key priorities over the course of this Parliament. I will definitely be keeping up the pressure.”

The commitment follows November’s announcement that work on a multi-million pound upgrade of the Ely north junction, a key bottleneck on the line, will not start until at least 2019.

In the letter, Ms Perry stressed the upgrade had not been cancelled but would be carried out in the spending period from 2019 to 2024.

She added: “Because this is later than previously expected, we have set aside funding for Network Rail to look at other ways to provide the infrastructure for increased train capacity and passenger benefits sooner than this.”

The letter said the first phase is for the company to develop plans to lengthen platforms to enable stations to accommodate eight-coach trains, rather than the existing four.

Ms Perry said: “Network Rail’s study is underway and should be completed in early 2016.

“When we have reviewed it, we will be able to set out a timescale for improvements to be delivered as quickly as possible.”

The delay to the Ely project also cast doubt over the introduction of half-hourly trains between Lynn and London.

Under the contract held by the current operator Great Northern, the expanded service is scheduled to start in May next year.

But the letter says that depends on Network Rail granting the right to operate it and appropriate infrastructure being in place.

Politicians, rail industry bosses and business leaders are due to meet at a summit to be held in Downham next month.