Growth at risk from West Norfolk ‘rail downgrade’, campaigners warn

Launch of new trains at King's Lynn Railway Station
Launch of new trains at King's Lynn Railway Station
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Passenger growth on West Norfolk’s rail line will be put at risk without urgent improvements to services, politicians and business leaders have warned.

New figures have revealed almost 1.7 million passenger entries and exits were recorded at the borough’s three stations over the past year, up three per cent on the previous year.

But campaigners have seized on the data to denounce new timetable plans for the route, which they say could add nearly 15 minutes to some journeys.

Passengers are being urged to take part in an ongoing public consultation on weekend timetable plans.

And King’s Lynn BID chairman Darren Taylor said this week: “King’s Lynn businesses are getting increasingly fed up with false promises and a lack of action.”

The BID committee has also teamed up with West Norfolk Council and the Fen Line Users Association to reiterate its demand for the government to intervene and ensure the long-awaited twice-hourly rail service between Lynn and London is delivered.

They want a long-term commitment to 12 coach trains, instead of the eight that are currently proposed by industry bosses, plus work to re-dual sections of the line that were downgraded in the 1980s.

And they say the latest data on passenger numbers published by the Office for Rail and Road (ORR) emphasises the need for urgent action.

According to the ORR data, nearly a million entries and exits were recorded at Lynn’s station during 2016-17, an increase of 2.5 per cent, or around 28,000 on the previous year.

The total was also up by nearly 4.5 per cent at Downham, to around 523,000, making it now the fourth busiest station in Norfolk.

But, although Watlington’s figure was down by just over three per cent to around 144,000, the overall increase in West Norfolk’s passenger numbers, around three per cent, is well ahead of the overall 0.4 per cent growth rate recorded across the whole of the network. The ORR data is based on estimates of ticket sales from each station.

Great Northern insists longer journeys are necessary to improve performance and enable trains to stop for long enough at the new Cambridge North station, which opened in the spring.

The company also says its weekend plans will offer standardised journey times throughout the day, meaning evening services will be significantly faster than they are now.

But West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long said the proposals would “downgrade further” the borough’s service.

He said: “Our line is one of East Anglia’s most consistent heavy-hitters – official figures just out show what we know already from our packed trains – passenger numbers are up yet another year.

“We urge rail users to respond to Great Northern’s consultation and tell them what they think.”

To have your say, visit www.transformingrail.com. The consultation will run until noon on Wednesday, December 20.