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Creating new services across East Anglia

When the national rail system was managed as a single network, investment was too often focused on links between the biggest cities, with important regional links receiving less attention. Since train companies were established in each region in the mid-1990s, however, much greater efforts have gone into understanding these links, providing services to meet the demands of passengers, businesses and regional economies.

A great example of this is the service between Norwich and Cambridge, operated by Greater Anglia. Both cities are commercial and educational hubs of national and international importance, and are regional economic centres for large rural areas. Yet until 2002, rail travellers had no direct service between these two cities, requiring a change at Ely, with only a limited number of services each day.

In consultation with passengers and local businesses, the train company recognised that this long-running anomaly should be addressed, and in 2002, £10m was invested in four new two-car trains, which would provide a new hourly, direct service between Norwich and Cambridge. For commuters, business travellers, students, tourists and passengers of all kinds, the new services transformed their journeys.

The new service was immediately successful, with 390,000 journeys made in the first year. By 2010 the new service became so popular, three-car trains were added to the service, and annual journeys have continued to grow to more than one million by 2018. From an infrequent, indirect service to a regular, direct, high capacity service with brand new trains, travel between these cities has been transformed in less than two decades. 40% of passengers on the new route switched from their cars to the train, helping to reduce congestion on the A11 and cutting carbon emissions.

This regional investment has continued as different companies have competed to run these services, with Anglia Railways (part of GB Railways Group) running services until 2004, followed by National Express and then Greater Anglia (part of Abellio), since 2012. Travellers between Norwich and Cambridge haven’t been the only ones to benefit. Journeys between Norwich and Sheringham on the North Norfolk coast have more than tripled since 1998, with better trains delivering more frequent services. Hourly services were introduced between Ipswich and Cambridge in 2005, with over 1.5 million journeys taken  in 2018, more than three times the journeys made in 1998.These regional links are vital to local economies, and after many decades of underinvestment, have been turned around.

The development of the Stansted Express airport service, also operated as part of Greater Anglia, has seen remarkable growth too. As the UK’s fourth busiest airport, rail now accounts for a record 31.2% of passenger journeys to and from Stansted Airport compared with other modes of transport. This is down to close partnership working between Greater Anglia and the airport, investment in new train capacity and targeted marketing to promote rail connections to passengers as they book flights and accommodation.

The continued success of the railway requires further investment in trains to keep up with demand and provide the quality of service passengers expect. Greater Anglia is replacing every single carriage on the network, investing £1.4bn in a fleet of 169 new trains. That is over a thousand new carriages, being introduced from this summer onwards. Across all parts of the UK, more than 7,000 new carriages will be delivered and 6,400 new services will start running by 2021. This underlines train companies’ commitment to boost customer satisfaction across the network, and remain the top-rated major railway in Europe.

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