An agreement to move forward work to improve rail capacity through the vital Ely area has taken a significant step forward thanks to funding from two LEPs.
The project, which is the first of its kind in the UK, will see both the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP and New Anglia LEP fund technical and feasibility work associated with the Ely area, including Ely North Junction. This study, carried out by Network Rail, will provide options for funders to increase rail capacity and provide improvements for both freight and passenger services from King’s Cross to King’s Lynn, Ipswich to Peterborough and Felixstowe to Nuneaton and beyond.
This investment is a true partnership endeavour to unlock a significant barrier to economic growth in the East. The LEPs were approached for funding following the decision to defer work on additional capacity through Ely in 2015.
£3.3 million each from New Anglia LEP and Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP, together with £2.2 million the Strategic Freight Network form a total partnership investment of £8.8 million, to be used to undertake detailed feasibility work that needs to be carried out before options for improvements to rail infrastructure within the Ely area can be considered for funding. The investment will also fund Network Rail to complete a business case, to demonstrate the value of investment by government and other potential funders.
The Ely area sees five railway lines come together making it a very complex area to address. At the moment, an average six trains pass through the area hourly with an additional service every two hours. There is a need to significantly increase both freight and passenger capacity through the Ely area to support franchise commitments, future aspirations and local economic and housing growth.
Mark Pendlington, Chairman of New Anglia LEP, said: “The Ely North Junction project will bring with it huge improvements for passengers in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and for services connecting the UK’s busiest container port at Felixstowe with the Midlands and the North – both delivering jobs and economic growth for the East. Together with GCGP LEP and Network Rail, we’re confident that our investment can convince Government of the vital need for this project, and create the rail network businesses and passengers want and deserve.”
Elizabeth Truss, MP for South West Norfolk and a member of the Ely Area Taskforce, commented: “I am delighted that funding has now been confirmed by the LEPs for the preparatory work on the Ely North rail junction along with the adjacent roads and level crossings. This is a project I first raised with the Department for Transport in 2011, meeting rail ministers as well as lobbying the Transport Secretary on the significant benefits of upgrading the rail junction. During the past two years, I have held rail summits pressing for all parties to work together so that a clear understanding of what will be needed in terms of costs and design can be produced. All credit to the local councils, Network Rail, LEPs, rail companies and DFT who fully engaged with this task. Meeting every month under the Chairmanship of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council Leader Ray Harding, they ensured the scheme remained on track with all necessary expenses fully accounted for. This is a key infrastructure project in the East that will provide a fantastic boost not only to the economy of South West Norfolk but the wider region as well. Work can start on developing the scheme in a couple of weeks and will take 24 months to complete. This will then place the Ely Area Enhancement Project at the front of the queue for the next round of government funding.”
Lucy Frazer QC, MP for South East Cambridgeshire and a member of the Ely Area Taskforce, said: “I am delighted that the LEPs have come together to support funding to help progress the development of Ely junction to increase the train capacity for both passengers and freight. There has been significant joint working on this project at every level including the LEPs, the councils, MPs and others. I am very pleased that we can now progress the work and prepare for the next phase.”
George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk and a member of the Ely Area Taskforce, said: “Faster East-West rail links are critical to giving more people in Norfolk access to the new jobs and opportunities being created in Cambridge. For too long the Norwich-Cambridge line has been a ‘Dads Army tank engine’ when it should be an ‘Innovation Express’. It is good news that we have got the funding to tackle the Ely junction bottleneck – the key to getting half-hourly services from Norwich to Cambridge, and the upgrade of the Norwich-Cambridge line I have been championing since 2010.”
Mark Reeve, Chairman of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP, said: “Work to improve the Ely North Junction is critical for unlocking economic growth across not only the LEP area, but across the whole of the East. By working together with New Anglia LEP and Network Rail we are meeting the Government’s challenge to fund feasibility work locally to accelerate the delivery of this scheme.”
Richard Schofield, Route Managing Director for Network Rail’s Anglia route: “At Network Rail we’re changing the way we do business with our customers and stakeholders on a local level. This is a fantastic example of the power of local decision making and devolution, recognising the investment needs at a regional level. This was never just a rail scheme, the benefits can be realised much more widely. By working collaboratively across industries and boundaries we’ve achieved a really innovate approach to funding development work here. If it demonstrates a positive business case, the upgrades would benefit the region for years to come and help us to deliver our ambitious Railway Upgrade Plan.”