The area has seen a disappointing rail service with delayed, cancelled and short formed trains leading to a poor customer experience. This, coupled with rail fares that increase in price regardless of service quality, has led to increasing customer dissatisfaction, especially at peak travel times.
Regulated rail fares continue to rise every year in accordance with the retail prices index, which gives a higher rate of increase than other indices. Compared with other European countries fares are ridiculously high, being three times those of Germany and France, and ten times those of Italy. Since 2010, fuel price duty has been frozen, with no increases, so a 25% differential has been created. This has made car commuting, even for a sole driver, a far more attractive proposition.
The existing rail fleet will be entirely replaced during the next two years. Meanwhile the old fleet is worked hard. Some trains are becoming quite tatty, and all are becoming less reliable. Failing units lead to short formed trains, which can be a real problem during peak periods, as trains become severely overcrowded. This sort of travel experience hardly encourages a productive day at work. New trains have started to arrive, with four new bi-mode trains for country branch lines now delivered for testing and driver training; the first of these should enter service in May 2019.
Replacement of old overhead wires is nearly complete so issues relating to sagging wires in hot weather should now be history. However, other infrastructure issues such as power failures, signal failures and defective track have been far more frequent in 2018 than they should have been.
Most freight trains from Felixstowe are carrying containers bound for the north of England, yet repeated delays in improving the cross-country rail route mean that most of these trains use the main line between Ipswich and Stratford, where they transfer to the North London line. It is at this point (Stratford) that these trains cause chaos to our train services. Often the trains are forced to queue up to enter the north London line (which is very congested), and in transiting they block the main line for three or four minutes, as the trains are long (30 wagons) and must negotiate a 20mph speed limit at this point. On numerous occasions the writer has been on main line trains that have been held up for a freight train for several minutes, enough time for all the train connections to be missed. As most connecting trains only run hourly, the inconvenience to rail travellers is very real and a strong discouragement to train travel. Recent upgrades to the Felixstowe branch will make this problem much worse, as more of these trains will be running throughout the day.
Until the government sets aside funds for strategic rail upgrades needed to divert freight away from the Great Eastern main line, it will be very difficult to run a reliable train service. Also, Network Rail needs to instigate a series of measures to make the infrastructure more reliable. So although new trains will arrive during 2019, they will continue to provide an unreliable train service.
Chairman, Essex Rail Users Federation