Last Wednesday Ipswich residents with rail season tickets to London learnt that they would go up by more than £200 per year.
On the very same day, trains into London were delayed or cancelled due to a track defect between Manor Park and Ilford. And trains to Peterborough have been replaced by buses from Bury St Edmunds at least until the end of the week because of a derailed container train in Ely. Passengers on our railways are quite rightly fed up with paying more and getting less.
In my maiden speech, I promised to build on the work Ben Gummer put into improving rail services for Ipswich residents. I have joined the Great Eastern Main Line Task Force and will take an active role alongside other MPs in our region. Of course we are delighted that we will be getting new trains, and some of the disruption passengers face from broken down trains will be solved by their introduction from 2019.
But there are also serious problems with some of the track, and if we can’t solve those then we will not be able to get the best value out of the new trains. The junction at Haughley, where the goods trains carrying containers from Felixstowe to the Midlands and the North leave the main Ipswich to Norwich line, needs sorting. The layout of this junction forces all trains leaving or joining the mainline onto one track – it makes the junction more difficult to negotiate and seriously reduces the number of trains that can pass through – whether they are going to Norwich or to Bury St Edmunds. This junction is clearly not fit for purpose, it has been scheduled for replacement for years, it would be a relatively straightforward and affordable job, and the fact that it has still not been done is an indictment of this country’s unwillingness to invest in our railways. The junctions around Ely desperately need rearranging and rebuilding, and this will be a much bigger job. It has been promised for years, but keeps being put off to the next investment period. It needs to be done NOW. Felixstowe is by far the biggest container port in the UK and giving it a first-rate rail connection to the majority of our country ought to be one of highest priorities – if not THE highest priority – of any sensible national investment programme. Thousands of Port workers live in Ipswich, we have a huge shared interest with Felixstowe, and I for one will do anything I can to support the Port of Felixstowe.
Another major improvement needed is to create space for trains to pass each other in the Chelmsford area. More and more Essex commuters are using the railway to travel to London, and that has to be a good thing, but the line south of Colchester is now far too close to saturation point – it only needs one tiny thing to go wrong for the whole timetable to seize up. A major investment is needed in new track in Essex if our new trains are going to travel into London as fast as they are capable of doing. This is investment for the future, but it shouldn’t be the distant future! Over and over again we are promised new rail improvements coming down the line which are then shunted off to some unspecified date in the future.
I’m not going to knock Crossrail 2 or HS2. Britain deserves a modern efficient high-speed railway, and these expensive projects are necessary if we are going to attract people to rail as opposed to road or air travel. But this must not be at the expense of “bread and butter” projects like the ones I’ve mentioned. East Anglia is the third most productive region of our country, and the government cannot afford to ignore our needs. It is right and proper that the public transport needs of our capital city should be met, and anyone who can remember trying to travel in London in the 1970s and compares it to travelling now, will know the massive strides that have been made in keeping London moving. But sometimes I think the focus on London is blinding the government to the equally important public transport needs of the rest of the country.
We need investment per head in our region to come at least some way toward the amount spent in London – if that happened we might finally get a railway we could be proud of.