It's been a pretty tough year for rail users in our area with far too many "incidents" occurring that have caused severe delays to journeys. The majority of these have been infrastructure related (Network Rail responsibility), but we are getting increasing numbers of train faults, caused by the age of the trains, and in some cases by inadequate maintenance.
The new Greater Anglia rail franchise starts in October 2016. Bids have just gone into the Department for Transport from three rail companies; Abellio (the current operator), National Express (the previous operator) and First Group (who ran the First Great Eastern rail franchise immediately after rail privatisation). Based on the track record of these companies, there is one that is best qualified of the three by quite a margin, and indeed this company has been a lot more proactive in researching what is needed. So we are hopeful that common sense will prevail, and we will get a step change in improvement.
We have certainly been very proactive in lobbying MPs, DfT, and other interested parties to ensure that this takes place. In December, there have been debates in the House of Commons about the poor condition of our rail services, with promises made of new trains and other improvements. Ministers have been left in no doubt that things need to improve and fast.
So we are left with lots of promises, but being realistic, it will be 2020 before new trains arrive in sufficient quantities to make our train service what it should be.
Local issues have not been neglected. At last the new lifts are being installed at Manningtree station, and your Chairman has been appointed as the Stakeholder representative while these works are in progress. We managed to get the design changed as the previous design was potentially dangerous.
Also we have asked the franchise bidders to consider half hourly train services on all lines in Essex, with one of the first in line being the Harwich branch (because it will not need any infrastructure changes to achieve this).