Campaigning for improved rail service

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Travellers from the UK are often impressed by the modern trains and stations that European railways seem to have, and the way they’re integrated with other modes of transport.  Although some of this may be that the grass seems greener on the other side, but there’s one key advantage continental Europe has and that is the price of their fares. Excluding restrictive advance tickets, recent analyses found that season ticket prices in the UK per kilometres are 75 per cent more costly, ordinary return 52 percent more and long-distance ticket are 26 per cent more expensive. In 2013 and 2014 plans are being made to raise fares in the UK by three percent above inflation. 

The reasons for higher fares are firstly that the UK railways cost a lot to run, partly because of the legacy of what is, at heart, a Victorian network. Current running costs are also due to decades of underfunding. Network Rail, which runs the track and signalling, is getting costs down and we’re on track to cut the state’s share of spending on rail to 25 per cent by 2014. Around 85 percent of state spending on rail goes on infrastructure so we are not subsiding empty trains we’re paying to make sure we maintain the connectivity of the network. We also need to recognise that investing in rail serves the nation and is not a wasteful subsidy.   Improving our railways and ensuring that fares are affordable helps to cut green house gas emissions, tackle traffic and support the economies of our cities by enabling people to get to work. Many disaffected commuters face hikes of around three times the expected rise in wages.

It is essential that we persuade Government that investing in the railways makes good business sense and in particular investing in East Anglia rail links will unlock significant economic potential. The Norfolk Chamber of Commerce has joined with the Norfolk MPs, New Anglia LEP and Norfolk County Council and our partners across Suffolk to call for improvements to the rail services serving Norfolk.

During this summer, the Government approved funding for the improvements to the Ely North Junction, which would allow half-hourly trains from King’s Lynn to London.   However that announcement was only the first step in the series of improvements measures for the East Anglia network which are needed.

With Network Rail developing its detailed spending programme from 2014 to 2019 over the next few months, we need to reiterate to new transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin the investment priorities needed to be carried which are set out in the East Anglia Rail Prospectus These include the case for faster journey times between Norwich and London and half hourly services from Norwich to Cambridge. It also lobbies for improving freight capacity an upgrading rolling stock.

We got an early success in the rail statement in July but we need to continue the campaign with a focus on the Norwich – London line as it is imperative that East Anglia and Norfolk in particular get the quality rail service it deserves.

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