My campaigns to improve our rail services, and my efforts to stop the closure of ticket offices and crossings.
Commuting on the railway continues to cause misery for people trying to get to and from work. It has become far too common, that feeling of dismay which sinks in after arriving at Liverpool Street after work and catching sight of the crowd staring up at the notice boards searching for a way home. Even now, as I write this election update from Great Tey, the Colchester Gazette is reporting major delays on the line due to signal failures.
During the last Parliament, I campaigned with Will Quince, the Conservative Candidate for Colchester, for new trains and carriages to be included in the new franchise. I welcomed the commitments for a new fleet of high-tech trains, with Wi-Fi and other technologies that should have been on our line already.
But this is not enough. While commuters might appreciate the extra features, comfort and speed of the new rolling stock, they should not be made to appreciate it for hours at a time sat on a late-running train stuck behind broken signals! This is the challenge facing our line now; a desperate need for investment approved by Government and modernisation of the track and associated technology. When these new trains hit our lines, they should do so on a track that is capable of letting them perform to their potential. In this Parliament, I will campaign for the amount of funding our line needs and deserves, to bring the amount of money spent on our railway in line with others in the UK, instead of profits on our line being diverted elsewhere.
One specific campaign I am pursuing is for our line to be used by the Government and Network Rail for a ‘Digital Signalling’ trial. This technology would open up the line and increase the capacity significantly. It would allow more services and faster journeys to and from London. The technology is coming to the UK and I will continue doing all I can to make sure the Great Eastern Main Line gets it first.
Combined with our new trains, these improvements would drastically improve the services on our railway and provide commuters in Harwich and North Essex with the quality and reliability they rightly expect for the cost of their train tickets.
Direct Services to Harwich
I am sorry that the rail companies have been allowed to abandon direct services between London and Harwich. This makes the stations on the Harwich line less attractive for commuters. When the next opportunity arises, I will be pressing for at least some direct services to be put back in the timetable, but this depends upon getting more capacity on the line overall, so the line can support this flexibility.
I am pleased my campaign for disabled access to Manningtree Station has now been successful, and the Government has funded the installation of a new lift system to enable the crossing of the tracks without having to wait for a station staff-member. I started this campaign after meeting a remarkable constituent with health difficulties in 2010 and I am pleased to have played a part in ensuring commuters with mobility impairments no longer have to worry about missing connections at this station.
No sooner than one campaign ends, another begins. Commuters from the Harwich Peninsula will be aware of Greater Anglia’s plans to close ticket offices at a number of stations along the spur. I questioned Greater Anglia on what they intend to do to ensure rail users were not inconvenienced in any way by this. The response I received did not address the concerns I raised and so I have formally objected to any closures.
Paget Road Crossing
Network Rail are undertaking a review of all of the railway pedestrian crossings in Essex. Their intention is to close as many as possible to ensure the safety of the public. The most controversial of these proposed closures is the Paget Road crossing in Wivenhoe. Residents of Wivenhoe know this is an important connection between the North and South of the town, and that the proposed alternative route is a completely unacceptable suggestion. There has even been allegations of train horns being sounded at antisocial hours since the proposal was made, as the crossing is now deemed unsafe. This is a nonsense.
There have been no incidents at this crossing, and while a case to make it safer is reasonable, closure with a poor alternative certainly should not be the only other option. I formally objected to Network Rail when this idea was considered some years ago, and I have done so again this time.
Residents have explained to me that they have no faith the consultation process has been carried out fairly or with due consideration of local concerns. In light of this, I have written to the Secretary of State for Transport (see HERE for my letter) asking for a public inquiry into the proposal and Network Rail’s handling of this fiasco. I am pleased to annouce this has been agreed to and an inquiry will be taking place. In this Parliament, I will continue to make the case to the public inquiry for the crossing to stay open and will remain firmly opposed to the crossing being closed.