Work on West Norfolk rail link upgrade 'could start in 2025', councillors told
Councillors have been warned it could be at least five years before building work begins on plans that would allow more trains to run between West Norfolk and London.
But officials say there is still a strong economic case for upgrading the network in the Ely area, despite the drop in passenger numbers caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Last week , the government announced more than £13 million of funding to enable an outline business case for the scheme to be developed.
And Network Rail, the body responsible for maintaining and improving the railway network, is set to begin a remote consultation exercise on the scheme later this month.
But members of West Norfolk Council's regeneration and development panel were yesterday told that any building work was still a long way off.
Peter Jermany, the authority's representative on a task force set up to oversee the project, said it was currently expected that preferred options for how the scheme might proceed would be finalised either late next year or in early 2022, following further consultation exercises.
He added that construction "might" then begin in 2025 if sufficient progress and funding has been achieved by then.
But, in response to questions from panel chairman Judy Collingham, he sought to assure members that the financial case for the upgrade, which is seen as critical to enabling twice-hourly services between Lynn and London, remained strong.
He said that "fairly conservative" estimates suggested the scheme could generate up to £500 million in economic benefits for the region.
He added: “There’s a very strong financial case. That does still look a very good project as business on the railways picks up in time to come.”
The discussion followed Network Rail's announcement that its work on a £29 million scheme to enable eight-coach trains to run between Lynn and Cambridge, instead of the current four-coach units, has now been completed .
A programme of testing and driver training is now set to be undertaken.
And officials from the area's main train operator, Great Northern, say they are confident the additional capacity will be available from December as planned.