Autumn hope for West Norfolk rail expansion work start
Work to enable longer trains to run to and from West Norfolk could finally start this autumn, if ministers stump up the money for it, according to a borough MP.
The claim follows talks between political leaders and rail industry bosses in Downham over the stalled bids for major upgrades to the borough’s rail link to Cambridge and London.
A decision is expected from the Department of Transport soon on whether it will fund improved infrastructure to enable eight-coach trains to run instead of the current four-coach units.
But, even if they do, the project is not expected to be completed until late next year, around two years later than initially expected, at the earliest.
South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said there had been a “extremely frank discussion” with officials from Network Rail and the area’s main train operator, Great Northern at the meeting, which took place in Downham last Friday.
She said: “‘I am extremely frustrated by the length of time rail users are having to wait to see any improvements.
“I appreciate that the eight car scheme is awaiting a final funding announcement from the DFT, but I want Network Rail to be ready to go once the money is available.
“I have raised with the Transport Secretary that this is an absolute priority for our region and will be maintaining the pressure so we see improvements on this line as soon as possible.”
Network Rail said they had “welcomed” the opportunity to discuss the progress of the programme, and work to upgrade the Ely North Junction, with Ms Truss and other political leaders including North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long and Cambridgeshire mayor James Palmer.
They added: “We will continue to update our partners, passengers and local communities as these projects progress.”
The discussions were also followed by a meeting this week between Mr Palmer and the rail minister, Andrew Jones, in Westminster.
Mr Palmer said afterwards: “Users of this service can rest assured that I’m completely with them in seeing the status quo as completely unacceptable.
“Bearing in mind the money they spend on using the service, they should rightfully expect at least a basic level of comfort when using the service at peak times. More often than not this basic level of comfort is not met.
“I’m doing everything I can to push to ensure that this is addressed as soon as possible by allowing for an eight-car service.”
Meanwhile, Great Northern said the Downham meeting had been “constructive”, adding: “King’s Lynn to King’s Cross services are very popular.
“Our drivers and trains are ready and we are looking forward to working with our partners at Network Rail to get eight-carriage services operating on stopping services to King’s Lynn as soon as the infrastructure is ready.”