Mayor James Palmer met with Rail Minister Andrew Jones MP yesterday to urge support for a bid to allow eight-car trains on the line between Cambridge, Ely and King's Lynn to tackle overcrowding at peak times.
Mayor Palmer also raised other rail priorities including service improvements to and from Fenland stations at Whittlesey, March and Manea, as well as the delivery of an interim station at Cambridge South.
This followed the Mayor joining Norfolk MPs Elizabeth Truss and Sir Henry Bellingham and Borough Council of King's Lynn and West Norfolk Leader Brian Long on Friday to discuss with Network Rail and train operator Govia Thameslink Railway the delivery of the eight-car trains scheme. The proposed scheme to increase rail capacity around Ely North Junction was also discussed.
The King's Lynn to London King's Cross service, which includes stops at Littleport, Ely, Waterbeach, Cambridge North and Cambridge stations, is very popular with commuters but is limited by infrastructure to a four-car train and is frequently overcrowded at peak times. It only becomes an eight-car service between Cambridge and King's Cross.
Recognising the need to increase capacity, Network Rail has been working up a scheme which would extend the platforms at Littleport and Waterbeach, as well as involving sidings work at King's Lynn, in order to accommodate eight-car trains.
The design is scheduled to be submitted to the Department of Transport for a final investment decision this month, at which point construction could start, as well as the announcement of an expected date for completion.
The Mayor also raised earlier and later services to Peterborough, Cambridge and Stanstead Airport from railway stations in Cambridgeshire including to and from the Fenland stations. This also ties in with the long-held ambition of having an evening out in Cambridge travelling from a Fenland station and being able to return home that evening by rail.
The Mayor raised the importance with the Minister of an interim station at Cambridge South, ahead of the 2025-27 estimate for the full station when East-West rail is delivered. The Mayor's ambition is to deliver the interim station solutions years ahead of this. The Combined Authority continues to work with the Department of Transport and Network Rail to progress the scheme.
And the importance of improvements to the area around Ely North Junction was raised where the upgrade is key to unlocking both passenger and freight capacity by tacking the well-known bottleneck.
Mayor James Palmer said:
"As I've said before, as a regular user of this service I'm fully aware of the serious overcrowding issues there are between Cambridge and Littleport. Before Christmas I wrote a letter to the new Rail Minister making clear my strong support for the Network Rail bid to carry out the improvement work necessary to enable an eight-car service between Cambridge and King's Lynn. I was pleased that the Rail Minister responded promptly and offered to meet with me to discuss the issue.
"The timing of the meeting was fortunate because the bid to carry out the work will be submitted this month and hopefully a decision will be made by the Department of Transport to fund the works over the next few months. I was also able to point to the very productive meeting that took place on the Friday before with local MPs and the rail operating company that makes clear the significant local support there is for an eight-car service between Cambridge and King's Lynn.
"I know from meeting the new Rail Minister, Andrew Jones MP when he was a Minister at the Treasury that he fully appreciates the need for significant Government investment into our rail infrastructure to support the rapid economic growth that continues to take place in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. I was glad to have the opportunity to explain to him at length why it's so important to get an eight-car service between Cambridge and King's Lynn and how necessary this investment is to support the population growth that continues to take place at key areas along the route, particularly Waterbeach and Ely. He was very receptive to the arguments made.
"The users of this service can rest assured that I'm completed with them seeing the status quo as completely unacceptable. Bearing in mind the money they spend on using the service, they should rightfully expect at least a basic level of comfort when using the service at peak times. More often than not this basic level of comfort is not met and I'm doing everything I can to push to ensure that this is addressed as soon as possible by allowing for an eight-car service between Cambridge and King's Lynn."
South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said:
"I am extremely frustrated by the length of time rail users are having to wait to see any improvements. I appreciate that the eight-car scheme is awaiting final funding announcement from the DfT, expected in the next couple of months, but I want Network Rail to be ready to go once the money is available. I have raised with the Transport Secretary that this is an absolute priority for our region and will be maintaining the pressure so we see improvements on this line as soon as possible"