Could direct trains run from Lowestoft to London again?
- Credit: James Bass
Direct train services between Lowestoft and London could help the town's post-Covid economic recovery, it has been claimed, as users continue to wait for their introduction.
The services had been promised as part of Abellio's nine-year franchise agreement with the Department for Transport, which began in October 2016 and would have seen four trains each way per day between Lowestoft and London.
Yet more than four years later, the operator, which trades as Greater Anglia, admits there are "no indications" of when services may be introduced.
Services previously ran on the route, but were scrapped in 2010.
"These trains were a franchise commitment and should be a priority."
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Trevor Garrod, chairman of the East Suffolk Travel Association (ESTA), said the group was "concerned" that direct trains were not included in the plans for Greater Anglia's 2021/22 timetables.
He said: "These trains were a franchise commitment and should be a priority for the following reasons.
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"Lowestoft is one of only two large towns in East Anglia which does not have through services to the capital, and population along the line is growing with new housing being built, or planned in and around Lowestoft and intermediate towns such as Saxmundham.
"It is easier to persuade new businesses to move to Lowestoft if the town has a direct link to Essex and London and workers will benefit from through services on which they can more easily work uninterrupted.
"Currently, having to change at Ipswich means funnelling a lot of passengers on a fairly narrow platform."
"We are fully focused on ensuring the line continues to thrive for the benefit of customers and local communities."
A spokesperson for Greater Anglia said a number of criteria needed to met before trains could run from the coastal town to the capital.
They said: "The introduction of direct services was subject to a number of factors being in place, including new trains, sufficient line capacity for additional services and the ability to introduce services without any adverse impacts on performance, crowding or the operation of existing services.
"The new trains are in service, but the other factors still provide constraints which currently make it impractical to introduce direct services.
"However, we are continuing to look for opportunities to enable some direct services to be introduced, although at this point there are no indications of when that might be.
"We are fully focused on ensuring the line continues to thrive for the benefit of customers and local communities, as well as seeing if there are any opportunities to provide some direct services to London."
"When Covid is behind us, the recovery will very much focus on things like tourism."
Waveney MP Peter Aldous said the introduction of the direct services was a key focus of his lobbying ahead of the awarding of the contract in 2016.
He said: "I suspect Covid has thrown the franchise agreements into some sort of disarray so there are things that should have happened by now that haven't.
"A through service from Lowestoft to London, which we lobbied quite hard for, is something that is very important to our area because it would improve accessibility and make it a more attractive place to live or visit.
"When Covid is behind us, the recovery will very much focus on things like tourism and having a direct service is still something that there is a very compelling and strong case for and I will be reminding Greater Anglia that in our regular discussions."
"If you have the transport links you will get people in."
Rail user Edward Nightingale believes introducing the direct services would benefit local businesses and the coastal tourism industry.
He said: "If you look at the history of Lowestoft through the good old days with manufacturing and fishing, there were good train services running.
"If I was looking at investing or running a businesses, I'd look at the infrastructure and if you can't get here quickly or easily, it would put me off.
"If you look around the country, you can see the successful places, especially seaside towns which have fought back, are the ones which have had a definite focus on regeneration and if you have the transport links you will get people in.
"Lowestoft has the same coast as Southwold and just as beautiful beaches, and the only real difference is Southwold is a bit posher.
"It has all the possibilities for being a lovely place to visit once again and there are lots of opportunities."