West Norfolk’s MPs have pledged to keep fighting to secure a key upgrade of the borough’s rail line after it emerged the project could take nearly 10 more years to complete.
The comments came after Network Rail confirmed late last night that work on the Ely North Junction will not start until at least 2019 and may not be completed until 2024.
But officials have said they are looking at ways to double the length of peak-time trains between Lynn and Cambridge in a bid to combat overcrowding.
South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss has today led a delegation of MPs from the region in a meeting with her cabinet counterpart, the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
She said the importance of the upgrade had been recognised by officials, but added: “I want to see the upgrade as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, her North West Norfolk counterpart, Henry Bellingham, warned the region may be “forgotten completely” if the campaign did not continue.
But he added: “The pressure will be kept up, I can assure you.”
And Colin Sampson, chairman of the Fen Line Users Association, which campaigns for improved services, said earlier: “It could have been a heck of a lot worse.”
The new plans have been outlined in a review of Network Rail’s building programmes by the company’s new chairman, Sir Peter Hendy.
He was asked to review the entire national programme of planned upgrades by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin in the summer.
The Ely scheme, which had been expected to cost around £35 million, had been due to be completed in the current spending round, which runs until 2019.
However, the company now says the work will now take place in the next spending period, which runs from 2019 until 2024.
The document says the Ely scheme is being delayed “to allow co-ordination with safety critical level crossing works nearby.”
But it adds: “Despite this, Network Rail is aware of the strong aspiration of the DfT (Department for Transport) and local user groups and MPs to see improvements to services on the Cambridge to Kings Lynn corridor as soon as practicable.”
And, although his group raised concerns about current passenger demand outgrowing the existing network earlier this year, Mr Sampson remains confident the scheme will still go ahead eventually.
He said: “Because Peter Hendy has said it, it’s set in concrete. We just have to make sure the glue is good.”
The report also revealed that Network Rail is working on a scheme that could double the length of peak-time trains on the Cambridge to King’s Lynn section to eight coaches in an effort to reduce overcrowding.
It says it will report back to the government on how it intends to fund and introduce the measure by the spring. At present, most services from Lynn are joined to another train at Cambridge and divided there on return journeys.
Mr Sampson said he understood that longer trains would be introduced to the line at some point in 2016.