Special report: Are Norfolk’s trains fit for the modern 24-hour age?
08:54 18 March 2014
Archant © 2012
Have you ever had to leave a gig or the theatre early to catch the last train home?
The long wait at Ipswich train station
Fancy spending more than five hours sat at Ipswich Station?
While Greater Anglia’s last advertised train to London from Norwich leaves at 10pm on a weekday, some of the online websites used to search for train times can suggest that a later train is avilable.
But the catch is it involves a wait of five hours and 26 minutes in Ipswich, at a time when barely anywhere will be open. So you might want to take a tent, but good luck pitching it on the platform.
Because there is a later train to Ipswich that leaves Norwich at 11.05pm, these automatic searches suggest that you could arrives in Ipswich at 11.48pm and wait there until the first train leaves for London at 5.14am.
Of course, if you get really bored during the wait you could always take a trip to the nearby football stadium and take in the faded fortunes of the Canaries’ bitter rivals Ipswich Town.
At that time in the morning, Portman Road might even be more entertaining than at 3pm on a Saturday.
The bid for a Norwich in Ninety rail service linking the city to London in an hour and a half has been a prominent transport campaign since it launched a few years ago.
But how do passengers feel when it comes to the times of the trains – in particular those services which are used by people wanting to get home after a long day, a night out or a late shift?
Steve Hewitt, of the East Norfolk Transport Users’ Association, said one of the association’s objectives was to lobby for the introduction of a later train from Great Yarmouth to Norwich, especially in the summer months when tourists flocked to the coast. He said: “It’s something that does come up frequently.
“Days out can be cut very short because of the fact there’s less chance of getting home because of the last trains from Norwich.
“We are moving towards the 24-hour lifestyle now and those who are younger want to go to clubs in Norwich and public transport finishes at 11.”
Abellio Greater Anglia runs some of the key train services from Norwich station.
A spokesman said: “The timing of last trains is based on a number of factors.
“These include the need for Network Rail to maintain the rail infrastructure overnight, which means we may not have access to the rail lines during this period; the requirement to service and maintain our train fleet overnight; and taking into account the demand for late-night services, ensuring wherever possible the timetable reflects the needs of the majority of passengers.
“We are operating more trains than in the past and with last trains departing later on some routes.
“We also regularly review timetable schedules to consider the commercial implications of operating additional and later services and what can be achieved within the maintenance and resources constraints that may apply.”
Greater Anglia’s first train services start up at around 5am from the Norwich depot, with the last service arriving into Norwich at around 1.43am.
The operator points out that in comparison, the last train from London to Bristol is 11.30pm, so is the same as the last train from London to Norwich.
You might think there would be more demand from travellers heading out to places like Cromer, Sheringham, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, after a night out in Norwich, but in fact the latest trains on these lines are heading towards the city. The reason? Because the trains need to come back to the depot overnight.
A trip to the theatre is a popular reason for people wanting to get a late-night train home and Peter Wilson, Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive, (pictured left), said: “We fully appreciate many communities have limited travel options and we would enthusiastically welcome expansion of public transport in the region. Our audiences would appreciate an improved evening infrastructure to increase their enjoyment of performances at Norwich Theatre Royal.
“We do all we can to help people with their journey by offering links to public transport and parking information from our website.”
Andy Tyler, secretary of the Fen Line Users’ Association, said his organisation had had some success in lobbying First Capital Connect for a later service from London to King’s Lynn. He said: “The absence of a late- night train back from King’s Cross to King’s Lynn was quite a thorny issue for several years along the Fen Line.
“But the good news is that with constant lobbying from the Fen Line Users’ Association, at the end of last year we managed to obtain a last train back to King’s Lynn at approximately 11.15pm, which is a lot later than it was previously. Having said that, some people think 11.15pm is still not late enough. But our members and passengers on the Fen Line that I have spoken to regard it as a great step forward and are delighted that this goal has been achieved.”
The group also managed to lobby for a new early morning service into London and Mr Tyler said First Capital Connect also tried to work with the association and the organisers of the King’s Lynn Festival to see if any extra or alternate services can be laid on during the festival.
Mr Tyler said: “The Fen Line is very much a growing line and the usage figures are increasing year-on-year.”
A First Capital Connect spokesman said: “The timings of last trains are down to a service level commitment of the franchise which is specified by the Department for Transport and states when the first and last trains are to be run.
“However, we are able to run later if there is the right demand in regards to passenger numbers, the route is available and it makes commercial sense.”