Norwich train campaign launched

A campaign to cut rail journey times between London and Norwich and make the service more reliable is being launched today.Sign the online petition

A campaign to cut rail journey times between London and Norwich and make the service more reliable is being launched today.

The Norwich in 90 Campaign, backed by MPs, councils and business leaders, is pressing for improvements, including cutting typical travel times for the 115-mile journey from 1hr 50 mins to 1hr 30mins.

But industry insiders have sounded a note of scepticism, pointing out the huge financial cost of work needed to bring the line up to that standard.

Campaigners claim journey times between London and Norwich are the longest per mile of any inter-city route in the country,

Despite being just three miles further from London (118 miles), Birmingham can be reached from the capital in just 1hr 23mins, while trains can cover the 180 miles to York in only nine minutes longer than it takes to get to Norwich.

They are pressing for improvements to be built in to the new Greater Anglia rail franchise from next year when National Express East Anglia gives way to a new operator.

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They are calling for the introduction of new, spacious, clean and comfortable inter-city-style trains and want to see the newly-announced wi-fi service maintained.

Also on their shopping list is more train capacity to overcome peak-hour crowding. The campaign also seeks improvements at stations, including better car parking and a more pleasant environment for passengers.

Consultation on the new franchise is already under way and the government has indicated that the successful bidder may have to agree to such improvements.

Chris Starkie, chief executive of Shaping Norfolk's Future (SNF), the county's economic development partnership, said: 'This is the region's Cinderella rail service.

'Journey times are symptomatic of the lack of investment and the forgotten nature of the route. It's simply not good enough that our journey times are the worst in the country for an inter-city route.'

Caroline Williams, chief executive of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: 'In order to reach its economic potential Norfolk needs transport links which are fit for purpose. This is currently not the case and the Norwich to London rail service lags behind those of other key cities.

'Through influencing the new franchise we have the opportunity to change this but we only have a short window of opportunity.'

Daniel Cox, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: 'The improvements we are campaigning for are realistic and achievable; in fact, many cities already enjoy the faster, high-quality services that we want to see for Norwich and Norfolk."

Steve Morphew, leader of Norwich City Council and chairman of Regional Cities East, said: 'Until now the rail industry has been someone else's problem. We want to have a voice alongside the rail companies that enables us to reflect what our communities want to see from their service, and a voice has influence throughout any franchise, not just at the beginning.'

A spokesman for National Express East Anglia, which will surrender its franchise next year, said it supported the initiative and that campaigners' aspirations matched its own.

'We will continue to play a leading role in developing a positive future strategy for rail services in the East of England,' he added.

A spokesman for Network Rail, which is responsible for the track infrastructure, said the company was committed to improving the region's railways and would be investing more than �1bn in the region over the next five years.

'Since Network Rail took over the running of Britain's railways in 2002, punctuality and customer satisfaction levels have risen markedly and the number of trains running each day has risen similarly,' he said.

'A journey time of 90 minutes between Norwich and London could require considerable changes to the railway infrastructure including overhead lines, signalling, level crossings as well as the track itself.

'Work of this nature, inevitably, would not be cheap. However, the key factor would not be the cost itself, but more importantly how that cost relates to the benefits that faster journey times would bring.'

According to Network Rail sources, it does not currently have funding for such work, but it could be financed in the next 2014-19 funding settlement if the government felt it was of strategic importance.

The easiest way to cut journey times would be to reduce the number of stops, but this would be unpopular with many passengers.

A major problem for Network Rail is the complicated mix of trains, including freight, inter-city and commuter services, sharing one track in each direction in places, which would make creating a workable timetable very difficult.

Faster trains would also require major and 'seriously expensive' changes to overhead lines, signals, level crossings, embankments, bridges and tracks, although measures such as closing level crossings and sloping the track at certain points could help cut times slightly.

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