A multi-million pound upgrade to a key bottleneck on West Norfolk’s rail link to London appears to have moved a step closer after talks with the government.
MPs and rail campaigners say they have secured a commitment to work on the Ely north junction, following a meeting with the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, on Wednesday.
But it could still be several years yet before the long-awaited scheme finally gets underway.
The project is thought to be critical to enabling twice-hourly trains to run between Lynn and London King’s Cross, along with a raft of other service improvements across East Anglia.
Earlier this year, the region’s two local enterprise partnerships joined forces with rail industry bosses to commit almost £9 million of funding to a feasibility study of the project.
It is only when that work is completed that final costs, and the exact date for work to start, will be known.
But South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who led the delegation to meet Mr Grayling, said he had assured them he wanted the project to proceed in the next spending round, which runs from 2019 to 2024.
She said: “This is fantastic news, we have been campaigning for years for this and it will definitely be going ahead.
“I am delighted that the Transport Secretary fully understood all the points we raised and that he has given this commitment today.
“This will be an incredible boost to the region and the UK as a whole, investing in key infrastructure that will really transform rail travel in Norfolk.”
Her North West Norfolk counterpart, Sir Henry Bellingham, said it had been “one of the most successful meetings” he has had with a senior minister during his Parliamentary career.
He added: “As the project is almost ready to go all efforts must be focussed on making sure it commences in 2019.
“Myself and other members of the delegation are now going to be putting pressure on Network Rail to ensure that they deliver it on time.”
The delegation also included West Norfolk Council chief executive Ray Harding, who has chaired a task force set up to look at improvements to rail services in the region, and borough councillor Colin Sampson, who chairs the Fen Line Users Association.
Mr Sampson said: “I have rarely been at a more positive meeting in any capacity as this one. Many big projects in this area can now proceed beyond proposal stages as a result of this commitment.”
King’s Lynn BID chairman Darren Taylor also welcomed the government commitment, but said the rail industry must now get on with its study of the project.
He said: “It is disappointing that, having been started earlier this year, this will not be finished until 2019. This pushes the likely start date back from the earliest funding opportunity, which is that year.
“We therefore urge our MPs to insist that the feasibility study is finished more quickly, as it would be in the private sector, so the Secretary of State can sign off the release of funds for a 2019 start date.”
Mr Taylor said he would be meeting rail operators later this month to call for further work to dual single line sections of track in order to reduce delays.
He added: “We are committed to working closely with Sir Henry and others to get a train service fit for the 21st century and one that is adequate for West Norfolk residents and our economy.”