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Never mind the North - what plans are there for the Norfolk to get better railways? County's MPs speak out

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Norfolk’s MPs have shared their hopes of a region better connected by rail – with one suggesting the creation of an Eastern region mayor to oversee the work.

On Thursday, the Government published its Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, which outlined future rail investment in that region.

Asked what improvements were needed to the East’s rail infrastructure, North West Norfolk’s Conservative MP James Wild pointed to Ely – a crucial junction for Norfolk’s railway users.

Longer trains will be operating between King's Lynn station (pictured) and Cambridge from December 2020 (53203611)
Longer trains will be operating between King's Lynn station (pictured) and Cambridge from December 2020 (53203611)

“While there’s been much attention on rail in the north of England, it’s important not to lose focus on the planned major investment to upgrade Ely junction to boost capacity and drive long term growth,” said Mr Wild.

“I’ve campaigned for better rail services for North West Norfolk and a £30 million investment means that longer trains have now been running from Lynn to Cambridge for the last year as part of the government’s plans to boost economic growth.

“The Ely enhancement will unlock more frequent off-peak trains, as well as supporting freight, and other connections and consultation on the options is underway now with final proposals due next year.

North West Norfolk MP James Wild asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the prospect of a nursing college in King's Lynn at PMQs on September 9. (53203626)
North West Norfolk MP James Wild asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the prospect of a nursing college in King's Lynn at PMQs on September 9. (53203626)

“Improving capacity at this bottleneck will bring benefits to passengers and businesses as well as attract new investment.”

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, who serves as parliamentary under-secretary of state for science, research and innovation and whose constituency covers villages around Swaffham and therefore quite some way from a rail station, also pointed to past successes.

“Upgrading rail infrastructure in the East is essential if we are to level-up here in the East, build back better post-Covid & deliver healthier, cleaner and more sustainable green growth,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve worked for 13 years – since before I was elected – to consistently fight for Eastern Rail investment – including securing new trains on the Norwich-Cambridge line, leading the Eastern Rail Prospectus with Chloe Smith, securing investment in our stations and disability access.

George Freeman - UK Parliament official portraits 2017. (53203633)
George Freeman - UK Parliament official portraits 2017. (53203633)

“But rail investment is far too slow, which is why I’ve suggested Network Rail be broken up into Regional Companies to better serve our regional needs.

“Ultimately, I think we need a mayor for the Eastern Region,” he added.

Labour MP for Norwich South Clive Lewis said: “This government routinely leaves Norwich and the East of England behind, so it’s no surprise at all we’ve been denied significant rail investment yet again.

He added: “There is a much bigger picture here. If we’re going to stand any chance at all of getting to net-zero carbon emissions… we need hugely increased backing for all forms of public transport – not just for Norwich and the East but nationwide.”

Conservative MP for Norwich North Chloe Smith pointed out that the Integrated Rail Review was not intended to address rail issues in the east.

“The announcements this week were specifically about the north, and the campaign for East Anglian rail improvements continues separately,” she said.

Ms Smith, who serves as minister of state for disabled people, work & health, said: “We’ve secured the big win of brand new trains for our line, worth billions of pounds, and we’re campaigning for improved tracks in various pinch points too.

“This remains a really important campaign which stands to encourage thousands of jobs in our region.”

North Norfolk’s Conservative MP Duncan Baker said: “I am really pleased that in the short time I have been an MP we have seen new trains on the Bittern Line [from Norwich to Sheringham], seeing the result of record investment locally.

“I have also been in touch with Greater Anglia to ask them to look at direct trains from London to North Norfolk, with no changes in Norwich, so people can discover the wonder of the Norfolk coast as a tourist destination by train, just like they used to”.

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council’s Conservative cabinet member for highways, transport and infrastructure, was less positive, saying: “I am very frustrated that we did not benefit here in the East, especially in Norfolk.

“We all know the Trowse bridge is a big issue that needs dealing with,” he said, referring to a busy junction just outside Norwich.

“I find it very frustrating how long projects take to come to fruition,” he added.

“We continue to lobby and lobby hard at every opportunity we get.”

David Welsh, convenor of Norfolk for the Nationalisation of Rail, said: “East Anglia needs a bold new plan for rail services to provide better connected communities especially given the climate emergency that threatens rail services on the east coast.

“This means a long-term vision for a rail and integrated transport network that would take cars and freight off the roads.

“This means electrification and infrastructure upgrades to increase line-speeds, capacity and station facilities especially on all branch lines.

“This means road/rail vehicles in all cities linked with tramway systems and local freight distribution centres.”

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