PROGRESS

 

With two trains an hour between Norwich and Ely and two, sometimes three trains an hour between Ely and Peterborough it is easy to take today's level of service for granted. Yet this pattern has only been in place since 2002 and back in the 1980s the service on the route was very different.

Historically the emphasis was on north-south travel. Only in 1988 did the east-west cross country services begin to change that pattern as reflected in the priorities in the Ely track remodelling four years later.

By comparison with today's clock face departures, trains often ran at irregular intervals. At various times there were some very local workings such as a journey from Norwich to Thetford or Attleborough. Norwich-Birmingham trains in the 1970s and 1980s sometimes bypassed Ely. The only through service from Manchester and Sheffield to Ely, March and Peterborough was the daily Harwich boat train which did not service Nottingham till 1973.

Number of journeys (Monday to Friday)

 

Journey

1986

2019

Norwich to Attleborough and Wymondham

10

20

Norwich to Thetford

15

31

Norwich to Brandon

9

17

Norwich to Ely

9

31

Norwich to Cambridge

4

17

Norwich to Peterborough

5

14

Norwich to Nottingham

0

14

Norwich to Manchester and Sheffield

0

12

Cambridge to Birmingham and Leicester

4

17

March to Peterborough

19

30

 

Average journey times by through trains (Monday to Friday)

 

Journey

1986

2019

Norwich to Ely

1hr 27mins

55mins

Norwich to Cambridge

1hr 44mins

1hr 19mins

Norwich to Peterborough

1hr 45mins

1hr 30mins

Norwich to Nottingham

n/a

2hrs 39mins

Cambridge to Birmingham

3hrs 26mins

2hrs 39mins

 

Today’s services are generally well-run and passengers are better informed through 24-hour contact centres, text messages and social media.

 

Recent improvements on the route from Liverpool to Norwich through Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Peterborough include a 0651 business express from Norwich and extension to Norwich of the 1352 from Liverpool, completing hourly service through the business day while offering a 1635 conference train home from Nottingham. Each 2-car unit now has USB power points, brighter décor, cctv, cleaner toilets, information screens, 19 extra seats and stronger, more accessible toilets. West of Nottingham 2,500 extra seats are provided each day and mid-journey cleaning is now more effective.

 

We welcome the provision of catering between Liverpool and Peterborough, the introduction of coach identification gadgets and the impressively comprehensive information now on screens and station announcements west of Nottingham on which coaches come through to Norwich.

 

The hourly trains which link Birmingham with Stansted Airport through Leicester, Peterborough, March and Cambridge, have become more reliable in recent years with far fewer cancellations than in the past. Reliability is the most important factor in making services attractive to passengers. Air-conditioning and public address systems are effective. Toilets in particular seem more reliable than in the past but clearly need constant attention.

 

There has been significant investment in the lowest quality units. New electrical systems have improved availability. Selective door opening allows long trains to serve short platforms. Conductors can now open doors without having to walk to their cab from where they are working in the train. The trains are mostly clean and efforts have been made to address the appearance of the ceilings. Catering trolleys are advertised on several services.

 

The biggest issue facing passengers along this route is capacity. We believe that no passenger should normally have to stand for more than 20 minutes, so we enthusiastically welcomed the provision of 80 more seats on the 0519 and 1522 trains from Birmingham from December 2016, helping passengers going to work in Cambridge and home from working in Leicester or Peterborough.

 

A range of Advance fares, even for some quite short journeys, is offered. Many of the “tickets” can be printed at home or sent to your mobile device. If it works to their benefit, we see no logical reason why “walk on” passengers should be prevented from “splitting” their “ticket” when making lengthy journeys which begin in the business peak and continue through the off-peak period. Advance Purchase On The Day fares have proved more controversial and we welcome the idea of quota-controlled APOD fares without seat reservations.

 

Up to hourly services between Norwich and Cambridge were introduced in 2002, bringing significant increases in service frequency and attractiveness to the four towns between Ely and Norwich. The Norwich-Cambridge train seats have new upholstery and there has been a visible improvement in cleaning. Some services are now worked by new Stadler Flirts, As well as USB power points and effective air-conditioning, these boast extending “doorsteps” which, at high platforms, offer step-free access to the train without the need for ramps. Brandon station, now with 100,000 passengers a year, has gained Harrington Humps (to make it easier for people to join and leave the trains) and information screens.

 

Ours has been a growing railway. In 2017/8 passenger numbers were approximately:

 

Attleborough

160,000

Brandon

116,000

March

404,000

Thetford

297,000

Wymondham

187,000

 

The last five years have also seen growth at the smaller Fenland stations, encouraged by the Hereward community rail partnership:

 

Manea

16,000

Whittlesea

33,000

 

Peterborough-Ely-Norwich Rail Users

September 2019