Trains will travel more frequently between Peterborough and Whittlesey under plans being drawn up by Greater Anglia, but a better rail service is still needed according to the county’s metro mayor.
James Palmer met representatives from Greater Anglia and CrossCountry Trains last week to challenge them to expand and improve rail services across the county.
Following the meeting the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough said he was pleased to hear that Greater Anglia was advancing plans to make services on the Ipswich to Peterborough route run hourly instead of two-hourly, which includes stops along the line at Ely, Manea, March and Whittlesea.
However, the mayor also wants to see improved evening services, particularly in the Fens area, so people can better enjoy the nightlife and cultural events taking place in Cambridge and Peterborough, knowing they can use the train to return home.
The last train from Cambridge to get to Whittlesea, March or Manea on a Saturday evening leaves at 8.35pm which stops people from using the rail to return from a night out. However, those who live in Ely can stay out until the last train from Cambridge at 12.10am.
The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority - the local authority headed by Mayor Palmer - has already agreed £9.5 million in funding for improvements to Fenland railway stations to improve capacity and facilities, and it is awaiting an agreed plan of works with Network Rail.
However, CrossCountry, which operates a route between Cambridge and Peterborough, stopping at Ely, Manea, March and Whittlesea, will see its franchise come to an end in October 2019 and indicated to the mayor it is unlikely to be extending services or capacity beyond what was already on offer up until that point.
A consultation period due to start this summer will help shape the future of the franchise beyond October 2019. Mayor Palmer said he is aiming to make clear his ambitions for the route to the Government and to train operators bidding for the franchise.
He said: “Train operators are clearly absolutely crucial in improving transport across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and I expect them to do everything they can to match my ambitions for rail this area.
“Our recent Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER) interim findings have made it clear that if we don’t invest in better roads and rail our economy will be held back. Connectivity in the Fens in particular was identified as a key challenge and the need to open up more of the opportunities of the combined authority area as a whole to people who live there.
“I have to give praise to North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay who has been a tireless campaigner for better rail connections in Fenland and is also acutely aware how the area has been suffering from a lack of investment for so many years. He has also been vocal about the need for later trains running to these stations for people who want to enjoy the nightlife and culture of our cities and still return home on the train, and I absolutely agree and support him on this.
“I was impressed with the ambition of Greater Anglia to incorporate a reopened Soham station into its scheduling, as well as its commitment to plans to increase the services between Ipswich and Peterborough from two-hourly to hourly. This will be a vast improvement, particularly for Fenland rail users, and the challenge now is to make it happen by 2020 at the latest.
“They were also positive about the prospects of Wisbech rail, as well as my plans for an interim station solution at Cambridge South by 2021. With Greater Anglia’s recently renewed franchise also set to deliver an entirely new fleet of modern trains, with more carriages, I’m very positive about working with them to deliver improved services for passengers in the coming months and years. Their positive attitude is precisely what is needed.
“The CrossCountry trains franchise is coming up for tender in October 2019 and that’s good news, because the service currently isn’t delivering enough for people in this area. The trains don’t have enough carriages and there are too few of them.
“But we now have an important opportunity from this summer to lobby Government on what we want to see from the next franchise, and I would like to see support from all stakeholders, from local councils to rail groups, to shout loudly for improved services on this busy route that runs between Cambridge and Peterborough.
“For too long people in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have suffered from a second-rate rail service and the evidence is mounting that if we don’t solve these problems soon, we risk seeing a tailing off of our very strong economy and the quality of life that people enjoy.”