'Great day' for West Norfolk as expanded rail service is launched
The launch of an expanded rail service has been hailed as a "great day" for West Norfolk and a big step towards future investment in the network.
The first eight-coach train to call at all stations along the Fen Line arrived in Lynn's station today, ahead of the launch of regular services in a new timetable starting this weekend.
The £29 million project has seen new sidings built near Lynn's station and platforms extended at Littleport and Waterbeach.
Great Northern, the area's main train operator, says the project will make around 2,000 extra seats available on services to Cambridge each day during the morning commute and reduce overcrowding by as much as 80 per cent.
Rob Mullen, the company's train services director, said it was a "natural progression", following the introduction of new trains to the route three years ago.
He said: "It's a great day. It's not as big as Sunday, when we'll be running those eight cars in anger, but it's a really good day to introduce what we're doing."
North West Norfolk MP James Wild paid tribute to the work of his predecessor Lord Bellingham and his Commons colleague Liz Truss on the project.
He said: "Anyone who catches it regularly, as I do, knows how overcrowded it can get. It's very pleasing to see we'll have double the capacity on these services."
West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long said he had been campaigning for additional capacity since he first became a councillor 17 years ago.
He added: "Eight cars definitely improves the passenger experience. If you're on an early train out of King's Lynn, four cars, by the time you get to Ely, it's crammed. People look for alternatives.
"If people do choose, as they are doing, to live in more rural areas, a more frequent rail service becomes a bigger requirement."
The introduction of longer trains has been seen as a step towards other long-sought improvements, including the expansion of capacity around Ely.
Sarah-Jane Crawford, of Network Rail, which is responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of the network, said the company expects to submit a business case for Ely in the spring of 2022, following a recent public consultation.
Decisions are subject to the government's ongoing spending review.
But Miss Crawford said the company was hopeful of bringing potential construction work, which is currently estimated would begin around 2025 at the earliest, forward, and insisted passengers could expect .
She said: "We are undertaking work within Network Rail to focus on speeding up some of our project deliveries.
"We want to make sure people are feeling the benefit incrementally rather than waiting for a big shiny unveiling."
And she believes the network will recover from the downturn in passenger numbers experienced during the coronavirus crisis.
She said: "We're not naive to think it will be exactly the same as prior to Covid but I think the fact this has been in demand for such a long time gives us the flexibility to be able to deliver that and make it a pleasant experience.
"I'm confident we have a resilient enough service now and our future plans help drive that."