East Anglia: Once-in-a-generation bid to improve rail network launched

A MANIFESTO billed as being a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to improve East Anglia’s rail infrastructure was officially launched today.

The document, entitled A 21st Century Network for a 21st Century Economy outlines a programme of improvements for the next two decades, and comes at a pivotal time for the region’s network.

Greater Anglia, who took over from National Express earlier this year, have the franchise until 2014 when a longer 15-year contract will be awarded.

The manifesto, which was unveiled at London Liverpool Street station this morning, will be delivered to Government and its backers hope that it will signal major investment in East Anglia’s “poor relation” rail service.

The final version of the document was agreed after some MPs objected to earlier drafts, saying the interests of their constituents were not being given a high enough priority.

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “With the once-in-a-generation rail prospectus for East Anglia we have a clear, concise and positive ask of Government.

“Rail travel and a good rail infrastructure is critical for releasing the full potential of East Anglia and this document sets out the steps necessary to make that happen. For too long East Anglia has been a poor relation from an infrastructure perspective and the coming together of many stakeholders behind this document demonstrates the depth of feeling and interest there is behind the real and present need for improvement.

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“The document represents the four counties of Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk all coming together alongside MPs, business representative organisations and local enterprise partnerships to make a coherent and logical case for change.

“I am told there were some exciting and forthright conversations behind closed doors when early drafts of the document were released for consultation.

“I see no problem with that as it was a consultative process and the finished article is all the stronger for it. Isn’t that the point of consultation?

“Once again we have seen old rivalries put on one side for the greater good of East Anglia.

“It is critical we maintain this togetherness and speak with a united voice to Government.

“If we can do that we will have a far greater chance of success and that can only be good for business and leisure travellers into and out of East Anglia. That in turn can only be good for releasing our collective potential and ensuring a sustainable economic future for our region.”

Faster trains, more tracks and increased services are among the major improvements demanded in the document, which is backed by county councils and MPs.

Some MPs had misgivings about earlier drafts, including Colchester’s Lib Dem Sir Bob Russell, who said the original proposal was “Norwich centric”,

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said he, Bury MP David Ruffley, and Tim Yeo from South Suffolk had been concerned that earlier drafts had ignored the needs of their constituents who used stations like Stowmarket, Manningtree, and Diss.

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, who has been a key player in the campaign, said the manifesto now had all-party support from MPs.