In this section of my website I want to detail the work I have been involved with seeking improvements to rail services throughout North Essex.
While I will be detailing some of the successes achieved in the past decade, I don’t for one minute want commuters to be of the impression that I consider the current service on offer to be at the standard they deserve.
The Great Eastern Main Line has been used as a cash cow subsidising the rest of the country’s rail network for decades. I understand commuters have had enough. Unsubstantiated fare increases, parking charges skyrocketing and an unreliable service with delays all contribute to the underlying frustrations I hear about from constituents.
I know the feeling of dismay which sinks in after arriving at Liverpool Street and catching sight of the crowd staring up at the notice boards trying to find out how to get home. It is more than an inconvenience; it eats away at precious time with family and disrupts personal plans.
Some years ago, I campaigned with Will Quince MP and other local Members 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. I continue to 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.
Commuters by now are largely aware that benefits are coming. But this does not address the current frustrations they feel. Rest assured, I understand your concerns, I share them and I continue to do all I can to see that commuters in Harwich and North Essex receive the reliability they rightly expect for the cost of their train tickets.
Norwich in 90, Ipswich 60 – GEML
2019 at last saw the first journey from Norwich to London in 90 minutes. This was an ambition first campaigned on by MPs following the 2010 election and it has at last come to fruition. While the journey to Norwich is less impactful on commuters in Harwich and North Essex, faster journeys on the whole line benefit everyone. This marks the first step in achieving faster journey times to Ipswich and Colchester too.
I have been a member of a group of MPs campaigning on this meet as the Great Eastern Main Line taskforce, formerly chaired by Will Quince MP and then by Priti Patel MP. This group meets with representatives of Network Rail, Greater Anglia and others to pursue major improvements to the line. We are currently building the case for major investment at the key bottlenecks on the line and remedying these would drastically increase capacity and speed on the line. As you will see from this section of my website, there are several campaigns underway I am supporting which together have the potential to transform commuting from North Essex to London. The Government must recognise the importance of these improvements and I will continue to do all I can to secure them.
Every year as January approaches commuters inevitably receive news their rail fare will be increasing. And these aren't the only costs. Often parking at station car parks increase by substantial amounts. I am often told this adds insult to injury, paying premium costs for a subpar service. I have raised with Greater Anglia the unacceptable increases in off-peak fares and will be making clear the degree of upset and anger this has caused commuters who have spoken to me about this decision.
Crossings including Pagets
Network Rail carried out a review of all of the railway pedestrian crossings in Essex. Their intention was to close as many as possible to ensure the safety of the public. The most controversial of these proposed closures has been 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 continue to make the case for the crossing to stay open and will remain firmly opposed to the crossing being closed.
Manningtree disability access
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 after much lobbying and raising the matter in parliament 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.
Opposing not holding the Harwich service from Manningtree & direct service
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.
New Trains and Carriages
I campaigned with Will Quince, Priti Patel and other MPs in the North Essex area for new trains to be included in the franchise held by Greater Anglia. When these do roll out to the network commuters should see some significant improvements in the reliability and quality of the services they are paying for. The first new rolling stock is at last in service and feedback has been very positive. The full contingent of new carriages now needs to be put into service so that every commuter can benefit.
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. Coupled with the new trains, this would make a tremendous difference to the everyday lives of commuters.
Delay repay 15 minutes
I campaigned for the introduction of Delay Repay 15, the scheme under which refunds are available on any journey between 15 and 29 minutes late. The previous system only offered money back if a journey was half an hour or longer delayed, and this plainly was not fair. Short delays and the knock on effect they have can be equally frustrating to longer delays. Commuters deserve a punctual service and a 20 minute late train deserves money back. I am pleased that this campaign succeeded and commuters can now receive some compensation when the service is not up to scratch.
I have formally objected to any closures of ticket officer along the railway line from Colchester to Harwich, as these would inconvenience rail-users and the alternatives proposed would not meet the needs of local residents.