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MPs press Chancellor on West Norfolk rail upgrade amid £500 million cost fears

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Rail industry chiefs have been slammed for their handling of a long-sought upgrade to the line to and from West Norfolk.

Speculation has suggested the project to expand the Ely North junction, seen as essential to enable twice-hourly trains to run between Lynn and London, is in trouble because of rising costs.

But Norfolk’s Conservative MPs have met the Chancellor, Sajid Javid, this week to make the case for it and other key infrastructure projects, such as dualling of the A47, ahead of next month’s Budget.

Norfolk Conservative MPs with Chancellor Sajid Javid (28508997)
Norfolk Conservative MPs with Chancellor Sajid Javid (28508997)

And they say they want to see a detailed breakdown of the costs of the project which it is now feared may have risen to around £500 million.

North West Norfolk MP James Wild said today that the MPs were seeking a commitment for investment to progress work on the project ahead of Mr Javid’s Budget statement on March 11.

But they also want to see whether the scheme, which has been an aspiration for many years and is known to be complicated because of issues relating to the surrounding road network, could be delivered in phases.

Mr Wild said Network Rail had been scoping the scheme, but added: “They may be in danger of overengineering the project. We haven’t seen a detailed breakdown.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for South West Norfolk MP Liz Truss suggested there had been little progress on the Ely subject since a rail summit in Downham in February last year.

She described the current cost estimates as “ridiculous” and said: “We asked them a year ago to break it down into deliverable schemes. That has not been identified.”

Network Rail is currently working on a £27 million upgrade of the route which will enable eight-coach trains to run between Lynn and Cambridge, instead of the current four-coach units, from later this year.

A spokesman for the organisation said this afternoon: "Network Rail is undertaking development work that makes a case for providing additional rail capacity through Ely to support the growing demand for passenger services and freight services.

"The railway in the Ely area has been identified as a key constraint to allowing more trains to operate on these routes and it needs to be improved to meet the increasing demands for passenger and rail freight along several rail corridors.

"This work is currently at an early stage of development and is progressing towards the submission of a business case to the Department for Transport in the coming months."

The spokesman did not state what the current estimated cost of the scheme was, but pointed out that nearly £9 million was allocated for feasibility studies in 2017.

She added: "Further development work would require more funding to progress viable options which would include public consultation."

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