Cash from LEP poised to break the deadlock over funding next stage of Ely North, Soham and Wisbech to March rail hopes

A round table meeting was held at Downham Market Town Hall to discuss the future of the Ely North Ra

A round table meeting was held at Downham Market Town Hall to discuss the future of the Ely North Railway Junction with Network Rail last year. Left to right MP's Liz Frazer, Stephen Barclay, Elizabeth Truss, Henry Bellingham and George Freeman. - Credit: Archant

MPs were told today of a multi million pound offer by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to break the deadlock over funding rail improvements.

Ely North Railway Junction.

Ely North Railway Junction. - Credit: Archant

Neil Darwin, LEP’s chief executive, unveiled proposals at a rail ‘summit’ in Downham Market that would see nearly £9 million pumped into three key projects.

The offer includes:

• £3.3 million to fund a business case for Ely North

•£2.2 million to help pay for a new station at Soham and dualling the track

Ely rail station

Ely rail station - Credit: Archant

•£3.3 million (subject to final board approval) for the next stage of the Wisbech to March proposed reopening.

Mr Darwin said the money for Soham was subject to the Department of Transport agreeing up to £2.5 million for their ‘station fund’ and the new devolved authority chipping in £2 million.

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Improvements at Ely North will cost £200 million upwards says Mr Darwin – what he described as an “astronomic sum”. But unless the work is agreed it is unlikely other rail improvements – such as the Wisbech to March line- could go ahead.

Cambridgeshire County Council, he said, are currently working on a business case for the Wisbech to March line and, if the figures look promising, the LEP money would pay for a Grip 3 study, the next stage of building the case for the line to be reinstated.

He said he hoped the county council would be able to produce the business case within a month

One hurdle to overcome is the number of level crossings that would be needed- and their cost- and MP Steve Barclay is tackling Government ministers over this aspect of it.

He said Railfuture – an independent campaigning group for rail improvements- had also challenged the high costs of re instigating the Wisbech to March line.

Mr Barclay said they too had questioned why a “simple project” has come to cost so much.

He said: “Railfuture also appear to agree both with the Secretary of State for Transport and myself that a third party contractor (firms like Skanska) could be commissioned directly to build the railway without the need for Network Rail to do so. It makes sense to look for other firms alongside the option of Network Rail which is already struggling to cover all the work it has agreed to do and is therefore resistant to taking on new work.

“Railfuture further add that Greater Anglia plan to make the Norwich to Cambridge service a through one to Stansted Airport, and therefore this could free platform 5 all day long for a Wisbech service.”

Today’s ‘summit’ has been called by MP Liz Truss and will focus on the work required to improve road layout, level crossings and track upgrade in the Ely area.

The summit comes a year after Miss Truss hosted a meeting calling for all organisations to work together to ensure the upgrade of Ely North rail junction takes place as soon as possible.

Councils, LEPs, Network Rail, freight and passenger train operators and Department for Transport all agreed to form a task force and work together on the scheme.

The task force, led by King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council chief executive Ray Harding, will present the progress made so far at the summit.

She added: “After last year’s summit, a task force was formed and I know significant progress has been made in identifying the work required on the rail junction, level crossings and surrounding roads.

“Finance of the scheme has also been discussed and proposals will be presented to MPs.

“This is a key rail intersection in the eastern region, serving many freight and passenger routes, and once it is upgraded will allow for half hourly service on the Fen Line, improved services on the Thetford route, and will enable increased movement of the high value freight trains.

“This is a key priority for me and my fellow MPs so we are keen to see the upgrade take place as soon as possible.”

Attending the summit with Miss Truss will be Lucy Frazer MP, Jo Churchill MP, Sir Henry Bellingham MP, New Anglia LEP, Greater Cambridge and Peterborough LEP, Network Rail, Department for Transport, councils and train and freight operators.

The following rail lines are served by the Ely Area

• Norwich to Thetford, Brandon and Cambridge, currently hourly service

• Norwich to Liverpool via Peterborough, hourly

• Ipswich to Peterborough, two hourly

• King’s Lynn to London, half hourly at peak times, hourly at other times. Franchise commitment specified by government to deliver half hourly services throughout the day from May 2017.

• Wisbech to Cambridge where the track is in place and available to reopen.

• Birmingham to Stansted, hourly

• Freight services from Felixstowe and King’s Lynn

The Hendy Review, published in November 2015, reviewed Network Rail’s entire programme of enhancement works, and re-scheduled the upgrade of the Ely North junction from Control Period 5 to Control Period 6 (2019-2024).

The original cost for the works had been estimated at £35 million; however, Network Rail said it will be substantially more due to complexities around level crossings, signalling, structures and the layout of Ely station.