Olympic railway boost to region

EAST Anglia's rail service to London will benefit from a cash injection of nearly �500m over the next two years as a result of investment ahead of the 2012 Olympics, it has emerged.

EAST Anglia's rail service to London will benefit from a cash injection of nearly �500m over the next two years as a result of investment ahead of the 2012 Olympics, it has emerged.

The improvements include a �115m refurbishment at Stratford Station that will lead to better links with the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), the Jubilee Line and Canary Wharf - benefiting the thousands of commuters who travel in daily from Suffolk and Essex.

Bosses will also spend money on trying to improve the reliability of the eastern mainline by carrying out more track maintenance and work to overhead power lines.

Hugh Sumner, transport director of London 2012, was visiting Suffolk yesterday to brief transport chiefs on the work that was already underway for the Games.

He said his office alone are providing �500m to invest in upgrades on the London mainline - all of which should be complete by 2010.

The improvements at Stratford will see the station double its capacity and allow it to handle longer trains while the DLR extensions will also increase its capacity by 50pc.

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Meanwhile improved services with St Pancras will improve links with the continent and Brussels and Paris in particular.

Mr Sumner said: 'There will be a significant upgrade of the transport infrastructure and an improved level of service before, during and after 2012.

'It is not just about enhancing levels of service during the Games - we want there to be a lasting legacy.

'Fundamentally we want this to be an event built on public transport. My people alone are providing �500m for transport upgrades - the majority of which will be spent in this neck of the woods. There will be huge benefits for the east of England. It is not just London centric. We are planning to get everything finished by 2010 - two years before the Games actually start.'

He also said another �6billion is being provided by other agencies such as the London Underground and Network Rail.

At its peak 850,000 spectators a day are expected to visit the Olympic and Paralympic Games, 13pc of which are expected to come from the east of England and 80pc of which are expected to travel by rail.

Mr Sumner said talks were already underway to discuss timetabling arrangements and the extra capacity needed to ensure both daily commuters and spectators get to where they need to be on time.

'We want to be putting the timetables in place before the Games so we can test them out and staff can prepare themselves,' he said. 'We want to get everything in tip top working condition before 2012 because we want sport to be the headlines - not transport.

'Commuting drops 20/30pc anyway in the summer and experience of every other Games suggests people will take time off. However we will obviously have to enhance levels of train service - particularly at night to get everyone where they need to be. There will also be direct coach services - from places such as Ipswich and Colchester. I am confident we will get the balance right.'

Geraint Hughes, stakeholder manager for National Express East Anglia, echoed Mr Sumner's comments.

'There will be lasting customer benefits for everybody using the eastern main line,' he said. 'It's all good news for customers using this route on a regular basis.'

He said during the Games there would be more trains and an extended service between midnight and 2am.

'Thousands of people travel in daily and its important we manage the impact on their daily journeys,' he added. 'We have to balance the need of the event with those of existing customers.

'We have a very robust service plan but we must also think very carefully of how we will react if things go wrong. It's something none of us want to happen but its key to the whole effort.'

Guy McGregor , portfolio holder for roads and transport at Suffolk County Council, said he was excited about the opportunities that the Olympics offered.

'I'm very encouraged by the attitude shown and I'm confident there will be a lasting legacy for the people of Suffolk with regards to improvement in infrastructure,' he said. 'The improved links with Brussels are also particularly exciting because not only does it mean we can visit the continent extremely quickly but it also works the other way - meaning we can really push the county as a viable destination for the people of Europe.'

He added he was keen to ensure that commuters were not disrupted too much by the infrastructure improvement works and that the pricing structure was fair. He added resignalling works represented an opportunity to install an hourly rail service between Lowestoft and Ipswich.