Rail upgrade study ‘could cost £5 million’, Downham Market summit told

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A feasibility study into upgrading a key interchange on the rail network serving Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire will cost £5 million alone, a meeting has heard today.

Rail industry chiefs have also admitted their initial estimates of the cost of upgrading the Ely north junction were wrong and they were intending to start work even later than previously thought.

But campaigners say the discussions were productive on that and other shorter-term issues.

MPs, local authorities and business leaders met representatives of Network Rail, the company responsible for upgrading and maintaining the network, and the Department for Transport, at the talks in Downham Market this afternoon.

The meeting was called after Network Rail announced last autumn that it was delaying work on the Ely project until at least 2019.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, who hosted the event, said the firm had admitted it had not properly assessed the scale of the project until now.

She said: “They have put their hands up and said they didn’t do a detailed enough study.”

Representatives of county and district councils and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) from across the region agreed to help fund the cost of a new feasibility study into the scheme.

And officials now expect work on that to begin soon after Network Rail initially indicated they had not intended to start it until 2020.

Ms Truss said: “That’s not good enough. We need it done a lot sooner.”

The junction is seen as a key bottleneck to enhanced passenger services on several routes, particularly towards King’s Lynn and between Norwich and Cambridge, as well as increasing freight capacity on the line to and from Felixstowe.

However, wider work will also be needed on three level crossing close to the junction with two to the north of the station causing particular concern.

Ms Truss said a solution needed to be found with both Network Rail and Cambridgeshire County Council in order to prevent rail work having a knock-on effect on motorists using surrounding roads.

Several of the region’s MPs will meet ministers next week in a bid to secure government funding for the assessment.

And Neil Darwin, chief executive of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP said he was encouraged by today’s discussions on a project he described as “long overdue.”

He said: “I’m really pleased to hear the commitment from other stakeholders and partners. It’s a important way of generating growth in the whole region.”

Ray Harding, chief executive of West Norfolk Council, which was another of the bodies to agree to make a financial contribution to the study, said it “makes sense” for authorities like his to work with others to make progress.

And Colin Sampson, chairman of the Fen Line Users Association (FLUA), which represents passengers on the line from King’s Lynn to Cambridge, said: “We have achieved as much as I thought was possible to do.”