Plea to end third class rail service

THE government was urged last night to end Norfolk's third class rail service and give it new high speed trains like those which will soon serve other parts of the country.

THE government was urged last night to end Norfolk's third class rail service and give it new high speed trains like those which will soon serve other parts of the country.

The key players in Norfolk's economy are writing to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon to ask for investment on a par with the East Coast and Great Western main lines.

Mike Burrows, acting chairman of Shaping Norfolk's Future, the county's economic development partnership, and Peter Barry, president of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, want to see the 'super express' type trains on the Norwich to London line. They would provide more seats, more comfort and better facilities.

The letter follows the recent announcement of a �7.5bn investment in new Intercity trains for the East Coast and Great Western mainlines, which is the single biggest investment in Intercity trains for a generation and will provide a faster and more comfortable service.

Mr Burrows said: 'Norfolk's businesses need an efficient and sustainable transport link to London. Our lines are older that those on the East Coast mainline and investment is urgently needed if we are to avoid the line becoming a Cinderella service.'

The letter to Mr Hoon says: 'Trains on our line are older than those on the East Coast mainline and there is a clear case for a new fleet of the 'Super Express' type to serve this route, which would offer the high quality travelling environment and more seats which are both needed and appropriate for the Norwich - London services.'

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There are already plans for 68 extra trains on the East Anglia network and more advanced plans for 120 new carriages for the Stansted Express service between Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport.

The letter urges Mr Hoon to finalise both sets of plans.

Rail passengers from Norfolk and Suffolk currently have to put up with reconditioned Mark 3 Intercity trains which are 25 to 30 years old. Rail operator National Express East Anglia has also attracted criticism in recent months for plans to lay off staff and close the restaurant car.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb is trying to set up a cross-party campaign to improve the Norwich to London line, including a website and online petition.

He said: 'We have to challenge this as a region. Why should we suffer poor service? There is a real economic loss because of the poorer service.'

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson said: 'Anything to improve the line and to make Norwich a centre for tourism and commerce is welcome. The delays are still excessive, taking away facilities like the restaurant car is the wrong thing to do, and the ticketing leaves a lot to be desired. You don't get the feeling it is a passenger friendly service.

'New trains and new lines would be a boost for the whole of East Anglia.'

Last week a spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) said the busier, longer lines had been pinpointed for new super expresses because shorter routes such as those from Norwich to London would not benefit greatly.

'It would be like buying a Lamborghini to go round the corner to the local shop,' he said.

Main line trains typically take 1 hour 55 minutes from Norwich to London, a 100 mile journey and up to 2 hours 15 minutes late at night. Travellers from Diss to London have a typical journey time of 1 hour 37 minutes for an 80 mile journey.

By contrast, travellers from London to York - 175 miles - can do it in just 1 hour 55 minutes at some times of day, the same as the much shorter Norwich journey. Travellers from London to Birmingham - 100 miles away, like Norwich - can do it in 1 hour 20 minutes.

Many major lines have wireless internet connections - which are free on the east coast main line, run by a different part of National Express - and power points to charge laptop computers or mobile phones. New Virgin trains even have at-seat audio. In first class some rail operators, including South West Trains and National Express East Coast, also offer free hot drinks brought to your seat, a newspaper and even light snacks like biscuits or olives. Trains from Norfolk to London do not have any of this.