MPs to press rail upgrade case to government

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MPs will meet ministers today in a bid to attract government support for a feasibility study into a key upgrade of the rail link between West Norfolk and London.

The meeting will take place after industry bosses warned that an assessment of the work required on the Ely North junction could cost up to £5 million to complete.

However, a rail summit held in Downham on Friday also heard that Network Rail, who are responsible for maintaining and upgrading the network, had under-estimated the total cost of the scheme.

The meeting was called after Network Rail, who are responsible for maintaining and improving the network, announced last November that work on the Ely site would not start until at least 2019.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who hosted the event, said the firm had admitted it had not properly assessed the scale of the project until now.

She said: “They have put their hands up and said they didn’t do a detailed enough study.”

Representatives of county and district councils, including West Norfolk, and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) from across the region agreed to help fund the cost of a new feasibility study into the scheme.

Borough council chief executive Ray Harding didn’t give a figure for his authority’s investment, but said: “It’s got such significant benefits it makes sense for local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to join together to make sure that it happens.”

Officials now expect work on that to begin soon after Network Rail initially indicated they had not intended to start it until 2020.

Ms Truss said: “That’s not good enough. We need it done a lot sooner.”

Her North West Norfolk counterpart, Sir Henry Bellingham, said the importance of the project had been made clear by a “united front” in the meeting.

He said: “They have got the message loud and clear.”

MPs will meet with transport ministers today in a bid to press the case for government funding for the scheme, which supporters say would generate additional capacity on routes to Norwich, Peterborough and Felixstowe, as well as to and from Lynn.

Ms Truss argued that meant the project has regional significance, as a means of generating future economic growth.

She said: “We’ve got the joint strike fighter at RAF Marham. We need to be building businesses around that and they need to be able to use a good train service.”

She added that the MPs would also be writing to the chancellor, George Osborne, to lobby for his backing.

Neil Darwin, chief executive of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP said he had been encouraged by the talks on a project he described as “long overdue.”

He said: “I’m really pleased to hear the commitment from other stakeholders and partners. It’s a important way of generating growth in the whole region.”

Colin Sampson, chairman of the Fen Line Users’ Association (FLUA), added: “We have achieved as much as I thought was possible to do.”