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Purfleet, by Allister Webb: July 18, 2017

Launch of new trains at King's Lynn Railway Station and opening of new Cambridge North Station
Launch of new trains at King's Lynn Railway Station and opening of new Cambridge North Station

Cynics among us might say it’s a good job longer trains are planned for West Norfolk’s rail line given the current draft timetables would have us on them for longer than we are now.

I don’t say that to be grumpy just for the sake of it. Indeed, I write as a traveller who prefers to take the train for leisure journeys whenever possible.

But it seems to me that the rail industry, especially in this region, has a perception problem; the perception of jam tomorrow.

Essentially, we, the travelling public, are told that things may not be that good now, but they will be better at some point in the future. Except that point never seems to come.

For as long as I’ve worked in Lynn, we’ve been talking about upgrading the Ely north junction. That was supposed to be happening around now but is still several years away, at best.

Then there’s the twice-hourly trains, which were supposed to be running this year, but won’t be any time soon, largely because of the Ely issue.

And then we come to the here and now with the promise of longer trains from late next year but with the prospect of longer journeys as a sting in the tail.

I travelled on one of the newer trains when they were launched in May, have done so since and will be doing so again this weekend. Personally, I like them. They seem to give a more stable ride and the at-seat plug sockets are a big step forward for those of us who want or need to use our phones or computers on the go.

But even if we do get longer trains when we’re told we should, the prospect of journeys being slower, rather than faster, is only likely to feed the perception of things not being as good as they should be.

I doubt Great Northern’s explanation that the plans will help to “improve performance” will have gone down well either. Would a car manufacturer knowingly release a new, inferior model of a successful brand? I doubt it and I don’t see why rail passengers should have to accept it either.

If there are implications to all this, then the most immediate one should be to increase the pressure on Great Northern and Network Rail to make these desperately needed longer trains a reality.

I’ve travelled on routes in other parts of the country where train staff simply advise passengers to be in particular coaches if they want to alight at a station where the platforms are too short to accommodate the entire train. I’ve seen trains where carriages that are beyond the platform are locked to ensure passenger safety. If it can be done elsewhere, why can’t it be done here?

Jam tomorrow isn’t good enough any more. Even if people do accept a few minutes extra on their journeys, the time for meaningful action from the rail industry is long overdue.

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