Breakthrough made on funding for key rail bottleneck at Ely

EURO MPs yesterday agreed to spend �3.8m on solving a rail bottleneck between Ely and London.

The news came as Norfolk’s MPs waited to hear whether they have been successful in their campaign to persuade ministers to fund a �20m upgrade of Ely North Junction, which would allow half-hourly trains between Lynn and the capital.

Twin passing loops east of Ely station were among 41 rail improvement schemes to yesterday win a share of a �100m EU funding package.

The 775m loops will enable freight trains travelling between Peterborough and Ipswich to pull over as they approach a single line section track at Soham, to allow passenger services to pass them.

They will also enable the number of container services between Ipswich and Peterborough to be doubled.

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East MEP Richard Howitt, who took part in yesterday’s debate in Brussels, said: “Having fought to get east-west rail services from Felixstowe via Peterborough on the priority list for European funding, this is a fantastic success which will help our businesses and improve rail services for everyone.

“This is a project ready to start straight away which the government has accepted is a critical bottleneck, and I hope they have the good grace to give credit to the European contribution.

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“It is good for the environment to get freight off the road and on to rail, and even better with the region’s busy commuter services benefitting too.”

Network Rail said the Ely loops project was part of a larger bid for funding to improve the main freight corridors on the rail network, including the lines between Felixstowe and Nuneaton, and Southampton to the West Coast Main Line.

“Work to improve the freight corridors on the rail network will benefit everyone,” a spokesman said. “Not only by taking lorries off the road, but also by adding flexibilty to the network, making all trains more reliable.”

Hopes were raised last week that money may come from Westminster to fund the �20m upgrade of the Ely North Junction.

Transport Minister Theresa Villiers said the government was getting ready to announce a round of transport infrastructure investment during a debate in Parliament. Many expect the announcement to be made before Parliament goes into its summer recess next Wednesday.

South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss said news the EU had agreed to fund improvements at Soham was a last minute boost to the campaign.

“This reinforces the message that I have been making to the Department for Transport, that investment in Ely North will drive growth and generate economic prosperity to the region,” she said.

“Over the past year I have held numerous meeting with the DFT and Network rail to ensure all the freight and rail lines passing through Ely North do not miss out on future funding.

“The announcement by the European Parliament puts Ely on the right tracks for future investment and I will maintain the pressure on the government to ensure the Ely North bottle neck is removed.”

Work on the passing loops will be completed by 2014. They will enable the number of container trains running between Ipswich and Peterborough to more than double, increasing from 10 to 24.

Officials say the improvements will mean 750,000 fewer lorry journeys by 2030.

MPs unveiled a blue print for the future of the region’s rail services in Parliament last week.

The manifesto, called Once in a generation - A rail prospectus for East Anglia, called for faster trains, more track, and better stations.

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