Call for better trains from Norwich

Faster trains, increased reliability and extra investment in track – those are the key improvements which need to be made to rail services which operate from Norwich, campaigners say.

From February the majority of services in and out of Norwich will be taken over by Abellio, which has won a 29-month contract for the Greater Anglia franchise.

The Dutch-based company Nederlandse Spoorwegen saw off competition from rival bidders Go-Ahead and Stagecoach to run the service.

It will be responsible for the Norwich to London Liverpool Street services, some services from Norwich to Cambridge and for other routes currently run by National Express East Anglia, such as the Wherry Line to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and the Bittern Line to Cromer and Sheringham.

The company has so far not spoken to the press about its plans for the service beyond re-iterating its intentions outlined when it was named last month as the winner of the contract.

At that point, the company committed to a series of station improvements, new ticket facilities and better passenger information.

Improvement commitments of the new franchise included:

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New information desks at major stations including Norwich, Ipswich and London Liverpool Street.

A text messaging service to keep passengers informed of service disruption.

Updates to existing ticket machines to make them more user-friendly, the installation of 28 new ticket machines at stations across the network and the introduction of online season ticketing.

Some 141 stations will be 'refreshed', the majority of the train fleet will be deep-cleaned, some will be refurbished and more carriages will be fitted with CCTV.

A new cycle-hire scheme at Norwich station.

A commitment to publish a breakdown of punctuality figures, route by route.

Notable by its absence from that list are any promises of new rolling stock, but, given another, longer-term contract will be up for grabs in a couple of years' time, that is hardly surprising.

However, that is sure to be discussed when MPs from Norfolk and Suffolk meet with train operators, local councils, business leaders and Network Rail next month.

The 'rail forum' in Westminster on December 15 has been organised in an attempt to forge a 20-year plan to improve the region's rail services, with one of the goals to reduce times between Norwich and London to 90 minutes.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, who is chairing the forum, said: 'One of the main problems that everyone experiences on the mainline route are the delays and those times when you find yourself having to change to get on to a bus in goodness knows where.

'The reliability of the service is very frustrating and has been for many years. That is something I want to see the train operators and Network Rail working together on.

'There are always going to be engineering works and, if we get the investment we want there will be more, but we need them to be done efficiently and sensibly with far better communication than there has been up to now.

'Other problems are about bringing services up to the basic standard you see on trains elsewhere. We need trains that can cover distances in a reasonable time and we would love to see Norwich in 90.

'I do not see why Norwich to Cambridge takes so long either, so I would like to see that come down in the longer term, as that route is vital for places such as Norwich Research Park and the world-class science which is done there.

'The quality of the service on the trains also need to improve. Some steps have been taken, such as Wi-Fi, but I don't see why they can't have much more business-like standards which are taken as standard elsewhere.'

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