'Disappointment' at blow to Lowestoft to London train hopes

Lowestoft railway station. Picture: Archant library.

Hopes for direct trains between Lowestoft and London have suffered a blow - Credit: James Bass

Hopes for direct train services between Lowestoft and London have been dealt another blow after they were removed from a franchise agreement.

Four trains each way per day between England's capital and its most easterly town had been promised as part of the agreement which saw Greater Anglia run services around the region since 2016.

But disruption to services caused by the coronavirus pandemic has seen that agreement end four years early, with no sign of direct trains being introduced.

A spokesperson for Greater Anglia confirmed the direct services were no longer a commitment, although transport bosses have agreed to look for opportunities to introduce them going forward.

A Greater Anglia spokesperson said: "We have agreed to look at whether there are any opportunities to run direct trains between Lowestoft and London, even though it is not in our new contract.

"The introduction of direct services was always dependent on a number of operational, infrastructure and timetabling factors that would enable them to happen without any adverse impact on other services. Unfortunately, those factors are not in place.

"Challenges include the lack of space for extra services on the Great Eastern Main Line between Norwich and London, and constraints on the East Suffolk Line such as single line sections and many level crossings.

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"We would also need to make sure a direct Lowestoft to London service did not adversely affect punctuality or options for existing passengers, such as by running shorter trains than normal on the mainline or causing delays at Ipswich by coupling or uncoupling trains to provide extra carriages for the mainline section of the direct service.

"The East Suffolk Line has thrived in the last decade because of the hourly service we have been operating on the line including, since December 2019, on Sundays as well.

"This hourly service has increased passenger journeys by over 110pc, compared to only between 5pc and 10pc growth when direct trains were last in place from 2005-2010.

"Annual average punctuality on the East Suffolk Line is at a record level of over 94pc which, along with increased frequency and high quality new trains, contributes to the line playing an important part in supporting the East Suffolk economy."

Waveney MP Peter Aldous civic ceremony South Pier Lowestoft

Waveney MP Peter Aldous - Credit: Mick Howes

Waveney MP Peter Aldous previously called on direct services to be introduced to improve accessibility and encourage business investment in the town.

Speaking after the change in agreement, he said: "It is very disappointing.

"As far as improving connectivity to the area, it is not helpful.

"I have had a meeting with Greater Anglia to discuss this and they have agreed with me that they will, over the course of the next six months, look to see if it is possible to get that reinstated."

East Anglia's railways have undergone a significant change as part of the new agreement, which could ultimately see all passenger trains emerge as Great British Railways services within the next three to five years.

The change means that the operators will no longer be given a subsidy to operate services and then keep any profit they make - they will be be given a flat fee with the government taking the financial risk.

The government is expected to come up with proposals for its new model of running passenger trains early next year - and invite responses from businesses and the public, with the new contract to be set aside if a new model is agreed by then.

But it is expected to wait until the long-term effects of the pandemic can be assessed before any final decisions are reached - at present companies are selling only about 45pc of pre-pandemic numbers of season tickets to regular commuters.

Ticket sales for individual journeys - for leisure or business - have now hit about 90pc of pre-pandemic levels, meaning that overall about 70% of passengers have returned.

Greater Anglia managing director Jamie Burles with one of the new bimode trains at Lowestoft station

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia managing director - Credit: Archant

Jamie Burles, managing director said: “We’re pleased to have agreed our new National Rail Contract with the Department for Transport.

"We’re looking forward to continuing the positive transformation of train services in our region, completing the roll out of our new train fleet, maintaining recent excellent performance and further raising customer service standards. 

“Our team is fully committed to keeping up the ongoing cycle of improvements in East Anglia and delivering the best possible service for customers and communities on a consistent basis.”