Your article about the Anglia Route Study by Network Rail on Friday, April 15, raises some important issues.
Along with most who live in West Norfolk and use the train service, we welcome the rail industry’s commitment to dealing with the overcrowding on trains to and from King’s Lynn. We are concerned, however, that the commitment to find a proper and lasting solution may be less than fulsome, in favour of a short-term fix, with the sticking plaster splitting open in a very short period of time.
The ‘new’ trains coming to the route, probably now delayed until late next year, have little to commend them. There are 40 fewer seats than in the existing trains, and in two of the four carriages they are five across, so they have squashed another seat in. These trains were designed for passenger trip lengths of typically 30 to 45 minutes, not the 100 minutes from Lynn to London, and are now used on commuter routes into London. Outside peak times, people sit two across in the three seats, uncomfortable but with more space. Factor that in and about 25 per cent fewer seats will be available than today. And that is on a line with annual passenger growth recently that is one third higher than the national average, and with a new station in the north-of-Cambridge employment area due to open next year. There is a rumour that the Department for Transport has decided that because our trains are so overcrowded already, they will not stop at the new station.
Your report quotes the need to extend some short platforms to accommodate longer peak time trains from Cambridge in the afternoons. That is not necessary; today, in the morning, four carriages leave Lynn for London stopping at all stops, and another four leave a bit later and stop only at main stations, they then couple at Cambridge. The same pattern could be adopted in the afternoon, thus avoiding the need to lengthen station platforms, and with it, move some of the signalling poles. You frequently quote the Route Study report which was issued at the end of last month. We would draw your attention, though, to the comment on pages 34 to 35 that the work to increase the capacity of the junction at Ely North – repeatedly quoted by the industry as the constraint to providing half-hourly trains to and from King’s Lynn – would be to increase the number of freight trains passing through from Felixstowe Docks to Peterborough and beyond, and specifically it makes no commitment to improving this line. The same paragraph continues “The project objectives have been redefined to encompass wider constraints of level crossings and will form the basis for development activity in [2020 to 2024]”, which means that the commitment is only to develop the planning works necessary to deliver improvements, which may anyway not be for our line, during that period, and there is no commitment to build anything. On page 105, the last mention in the report on the Ely North issue, it says “The Ely area is considered operationally to be at capacity by the end of . [Capacity from] then through to 2043 requires the testing of a further growth scenario for passenger and freight services through the Ely area to Felixstowe, Cambridge, Norwich, Peterborough and beyond”. Absolutely no mention here of the Fen Line to King’s Lynn.
The commitment to extra capacity and half -hourly trains is at best shallow and grudging, and now delayed, despite the commitment by Government and the train operator to deliver from next year, and the so-called new trains are not fit for purpose for trip lengths of 100 miles. We fear that we are being deliberately misled by the Department for Transport and the rail industry, and it is time that they address the issue openly with us, for it is the economy in this area and local businesses that suffer from all this uncertainty.
Ben Colson, Chair King’s Lynn BID Steering Group
Darren Taylor, Chair Lynn Town Centre Partnership