Better trains between Norwich and Cambridge vital for jobs, says MP

More frequent trains between Norwich and Cambridge would help boost the world-class science being carried out in Norfolk, according to an MP.

Next year will be the 10th birthday of the direct service between the two cities, but new franchise operator Abellio will be taking over the service currently run by National Express East Anglia.

The service is widely seen as a success story, with about 2,400 journeys a day, and is cited as proof that a cross country service can reap dividends.

But George Freeman, Mid Norfolk MP, said there remains plenty of room for improvement.

Mr Freeman, who is a life sciences adviser to the government, said: 'Infrastructure is the key to unlocking Norfolk's potential. While inevitably a lot of historic attention has been on the Norwich to London line, with the misery suffered by so many commuters, I would argue that the Norwich to Cambridge line is every bit as important to Norfolk in growing our own jobs and developing our long term economic potential.

'The eastern region has suffered for decades in a lack of investment in east-west links.

'Norwich is a Premier League city, but with 19th century communications.

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'If we are serious about unlocking our potential, especially in creating the high skilled jobs and fast growing businesses that we have the potential for on the Norwich Research Park, then the Cambridge to Norwich line is absolutely key.

'With the world's population rising to 9bn, huge new markets are opening up for new technologies and services in energy, medicine and food.

'With the world renowned John Innes Centre, Institute for Food Research, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, University of East Anglia and the A11 engineering corridor, we have the platform to be a world class hub of innovation with fast growing small businesses and high quality local jobs.'

But he warned: 'This will not happen unless we can easily attract the necessary finance, management and industry into Norfolk while retaining our specialised quality of life.

'Without an upgrade of the Norwich to Cambridge line the long term danger is the newly dualled A11 will gradually become gridlocked and resemble a car park at rush hour.

'We need a major investment in upgrading the Cambridge to Norwich line, in particular improving the level crossings and signalling, upgrading station facilities and lengthening and upgrading the rolling stock.

'We need a combination of commuter services in the morning that stop everywhere, and a high speed non-stop or one stop service in the middle of the day to help foster links between the two cities.'

He added: 'One of the most depressing things I have heard recently was a leading biomedical investor from Cambridge, who has started more than 15 successful companies, saying to me that whilst he was hugely excited by the potential at the Norwich Research Park, he could not face the journey down the A11 or the railway line.

'A proper upgrade to the Cambridge to Norwich line is critical to us being able to unlock our potential as a county and combine the opportunities we need with the heritage that makes Norfolk such a special county.'

Alan Giles, Norwich Research Park director, said better train links were vital. He said: 'For Norwich Research Park to compete internationally as a centre for commercial research and development, efficient road and rail connectivity are absolutely critical to us.

'International companies in the Health and Life Science sector are very interested in the cutting edge science on Norwich Research Park, but when choosing a UK base such businesses also require a reliable and rapid rail service to London.

'We cannot escape the fact that the capital is the UK's main financial centre and meeting point for international business.'

While Abellio have yet to reveal their plans for specific routes when they take over in February, Peter Lawrence, president of passenger group Railfuture, said passengers were keen to see the hourly service to Cambridge increase to every half an hour.

And he said in the longer term, passengers would be pleased if the route was extended to connect to another university city – Oxford.

He said: 'The Norwich to Cambridge route has proved a tremendous success. It is interesting to see how popular that has become. Hopefully, in the longer term we will get a route to Oxford, which would be an extension of that line.'

Chancellor George Osborne this week confirmed a commitment to a new line between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Bedford, opening up the possibility of a further link to Cambridge.

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