Business leaders doubt West Norfolk rail promises

Train leaving King's Lynn Railway Station ANL-160316-152650009
Train leaving King's Lynn Railway Station ANL-160316-152650009
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Two of West Norfolk’s most senior business leaders say they fear the area is being “misled” over efforts to improve its rail links.

Ben Colson and Darren Taylor have called for greater openness from the government and industry bosses over how capacity on the line linking the borough with Cambridge and London.

In a jointly-signed letter, Mr Colson, chairman of the King’s Lynn BID Steering Group, and Mr Taylor, chairman of Lynn’s Town Centre Partnership, warned the area’s economy would suffer without a clear commitment to improvements.

They say that delays to the introduction of longer and more frequent trains on the route show the commitment to improvements is “shallow and grudging.”

They have also pointed to a recent Network Rail report’s failure to mention the Lynn route in its discussion of upgrades to the Ely north junction, long seen as a vital upgrade to enable more frequent trains to run, as evidence of a lack of commitment.

And they claim new trains which are set to be introduced to the line are inadequate, because of a cut in seating campacity and inappropriate design.

They said: “We fear that we are being deliberately misled by the Department for Transport and rail industry.

“It is high time that they address the issue professionally and openly with us, for it is the economy in this area and local businesses and jobs that suffer from all this uncertainty.”

Their comments have been backed by North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham, who suggested that Great Northern, the main operator of passenger services to and from Lynn, should have its franchise reviewed if half-hourly trains do not run from May next year, as provided for in its contract.

He said: “They made a commitment in their bid for half-hourly and longer trains.”

But a Great Northern spokesman claimed such a sanction would be “unfair”.

He added: “This improvement depends entirely on Network Rail being able to carry out vital upgrade work in the Ely area.

“There is no other way within the constraints of the timetable and amount of freight on the route for us to do this.”

He said the company was also working with the Department for Transport and Network Rail on a scheme to double the length of its trains between Lynn and Cambridge from four to eight coaches.

He added that the new units would offer full space for wheelchairs, which was one of the reasons for there being fewer seats, plus improved air conditioning and information systems.

Meanwhile, in a letter released yesterday, the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin pledged to “do everything possible” to support efforts being led by MPs, council chiefs and business leaders to bring forward improvements to the network in the current spending period.

However, he said no money would be made available for Ely until the next spending round, which starts in 2019.

But South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said she was “pleased” Mr McLoughlin had committed himself to supporting the project.