Friday, 8 November 2013

The last Tory MP for Ipswich is leaving from the Station

Much has been made of the announcement yesterday by the Chancellor, George Osborne that we are about to see a great improvement in our local rail network – but are we? And if we are to see an improvement, when?

Mr Gummer has been campaigning for an improved railway system from even before he was elected and he should be congratulated for getting the Chancellor to promise…. Well.. something – but what exactly?

The local paper here in Ipswich has run this as the main story today, with praise for Ben Gummer plus the Tory MP’s from Norwich and Witham, and Mr Gummer is also keen to mention Ms Smith and Patel but no mention of Dan Poulter or even the regional Lib Dem MP’s – but the official statement from the Government does credit the campaign to the three Tory MPs and the Lib Dem MP for Norwich. Even the Lib Dem for Colchester gets a brief mention, though he can’t be too happy as any plan to speed up the trains to London will probably mean less stopping at Colchester.

Mr Gummer was not happy with a number of my responses on twitter, and accuses me of (yet again) being 100% wrong but I have been looking at both the Government statement – here and other information on the rail infrastructure and am not sure Mr Osborne is announcing anything more than a task force being set up to look at ways of making it Norwich in 90 and Ipswich in 60.

But is that the main issue? Is it not the crowded carriages, the reliability, cost of tickets? Ipswich is already only 70 odd minutes to London and one train already 59 minutes – it only took 73 minutes to get to London in 1961!

There seems to be from research, three ways to speed the route up and the task force has just been set up to look at the three possible options- no mention of secured funding other than funding that was already in place for track improvements.

The three essential ingredients are,

1. A more modern fleet with better acceleration capability and 'automatic' doors. The announcement only happens to coincide with the start of the program for refurbishment of existing trains, good news is that they have not just gone for the East Coast cast offs, but it seems Government policy is when it comes to rolling stock it is for the train operator to determine. Which means after the cock up over the West Coast line we might still be two and half years from the franchise in East Anglia being sorted out.

2. Rail infrastructure design. There are several places where the overhead lines would need re-engineering and this is not only costly but will cause major inconvenience when this does happen.

3. New Track - The faster you run trains, the sooner they catch up the ones in front (if they are 'stopping' trains). There are 2 ways to solve this. Either you make the 'stopping' trains stop in fewer places (not a good idea) or you create extra track capacity by putting extra tracks in. This was already planned in Chelmsford – linked to new housing development and here in Ipswich we have the Bacon Cord, which should reduce freight trains.

So all the above have to be looked at by this ‘task force’ but it seems to be for all the talk by Mr Gummer it will only be when the franchise is sorted that we will see any progress.

Then we get back to the A14 Toll road- what we also need is an improved cross country service, Cambridge in an hour and very infrequent trains to Peterborough means that people are forced onto the A14 – no plan there, yet again we all seem focused on just London.

So I welcome the announcement by the chancellor, but let’s see the real details before we start getting too excited- how much will be spent? How much of that will come from the treasury 9not the passenger)? And when will we see it start? Plus how many trains will be London in 60?

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