COLUMN: Mayor Palmer outlines what he’s doing to improve rail services locally

Metro Mayor James Palmer outlines what hes doing to improve rail services locally

Metro Mayor James Palmer outlines what hes doing to improve rail services locally - Credit: Archant

We all know that Fenland is crying out for better rail services.

Traditionally, that has been the responsibility of Government, Network Rail and train operators, but devolution has given us the chance to invest in our rail directly.

And we are doing just that by pumping in £9 million to upgrade stations at Whittlesey, March and Manea with better facilities. If we want more people to use rail, we have to improve the user experience.

Working with our partners at Fenland District Council, the project is already well underway.

You may have seen in the news that we have been asking you what style of new waiting shelters you want to see, with a new shelter at Manea station and two further shelters at Whittlesea station all planned to be in place this autumn.

At Whittlesy we have already put in temporary lighting, but the bigger project will be a much-needed new 130 space car park, with construction starting next summer, for completion at the end of 2020.

A footpath and lighting scheme will be delivered alongside this and we are also putting in a new ticket machine.

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At Manea we are also putting in a new 50 space car park, which has the potential to be further expanded in the future, with construction starting in February.

And at March we are upgrading and expanding the existing car park, with construction due to start in autumn 2020, completing in spring 2021.

We have also identified land on the opposite side of the track for further car parking.

There is also great potential to improve the user experience with a large building on platform one at March.

So we are redesigning the internal space to accommodate a combination of waiting room, toilet facilities, café/newsagent and even rooms for community or flexible use.

We are also restoring some of the more tired parts of the station. There is a lot of rail heritage at March and so its preservation is important.

New project boards have been set up tasked specifically with driving forward each of the station masterplans, including representatives from the Combined Authority, Fenland District Council and the relevant local councils. I'll be in attendance for the first ones too.

So we are doing all we can on rail in Fenland, with all these projects set to be delivered within the next two years.

I would now expect Government, Network Rail and rail operators to meet us halfway. We are keeping our side of the bargain by investing millions in our stations and we now need the services to match.

I have previously said that we need a regular 'shuttle' rail service between Peterborough and Cambridge, stopping at every Fenland station, running from 6am to midnight.

This would give commuters the confidence that they can secure work in the Greater Cambridge economy, and London, and travel by rail.

March to Cambridge takes a little over 30 minutes by train. The potential for expansion is huge.

We are in a strong position and I will be meeting with the new rail minister after the summer break to press the case for better Fenland rail.