Artful Codger, By Roger May, May 1, 2015

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How frustrating that it now appears the much-needed upgrade to rail services between West Norfolk and London may be delayed for up to two years until 2019.

Half-hourly train services from Lynn, Watlington and Downham to the capital were scheduled to be introduced in two years time, following a lengthy campaign by rail user groups and local politicians.

But everything depends on vital expansion work at the Ely North Junction, a crucial hub for east-west and north-south services, which officials say they are now aiming to complete “by early 2019.”

Great Northern, the company which recently took over the operation of passenger services from West Norfolk to London, is aiming to introduce half-hourly trains in May 2017 if the upgrade is completed.

But the key sticking point is the need to resolve safety issues at three level crossings immediately to the north of the junction.

The body responsible for the upgrade work, Network Rail, now says they are committed to doing the work in the period 2014-19.

This is simply not good enough, given that the current service from Lynn down to Cambridge and London is already stretched to breaking point, with ever-increasing demand from the public.

And the situation will worsen dramatically in the very near future when a second station is opened on the northern side of Cambridge, making this booming city ever more attractive to jobseekers from West Norfolk.

Nor does that take into consideration the impact that will be created when services from West Norfolk are able to travel right through London to link up with Gatwick Airport and Brighton in the south (not to mention the advantages of the Crossrail connection that will be available when Farringdon station is completed).

It’s all adding up to a perfect storm that is likely to break in a couple of years time, unless urgent action is taken now. Network Rail needs a sharp jolt from the politicians to get on the case, and if additional resources are needed to get the job done on time, it is down to ministers to make sure this happens.

As soon as the dust clears after next week’s General Election, this issue needs to be top of the agenda for our freshly-elected MPs in the region, regardless of which party they represent.

Network Rail undoubtedly has a lot on its plate with nationwide demands for upgrades to our creaking rail infrastructure, so unless we shout loud and press hard, we are very much in danger of being shunted into a siding on this one.

So let’s make sure we do at least have a rail lifeline to future prosperity.