Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Ipswich MP starts ball rolling to improve rail service

As we head back into the first working week of 2012, commuters are looking down the barrel of ticket rises well in excess of inflation and a railway line in the East of England which would have shamed a former Communist republic.

At least our MP, Ben Gummer, recognises the problem and is addressing it at the highest levels of Government from the Prime Minister down. Just before Christmas, Mr Gummer had a meeting in the Houses of Parliament with his fellow MPs whose constituencies the Great Eastern line passes through between Norwich and London, Network Rail, the hated National Express and representatives from the new railway service operator Abellio, who will shortly take over the Great Eastern franchise for two years prior to the award of a 15 year franchise. Let’s not get carried away: not much was fixed at this meeting but a least the extent of the problem was laid bare to all the key players. Network Rail also admitted they were at fault for much of the infrastructure issues (i.e. track and signalling) – however, they were forced to make this admission by the fact delegates to the meeting were DELAYED on the mainline into London by signalling problems in the Stratford area (I’ve heard that one before!).
After the “rail summit” Ben Gummer explained in his weekly Morning Evening Star column his hopes for the railway into the future:

I expect that we will see small but nonetheless important improvements in reliability and customer service in the next two years; new rolling stock in the next five to seven years; and faster journey times in the next decade to fifteen years. All of this is going to take hundreds of millions of pounds. But we will get it, because for the first time all the regions MPs are fighting for it. We know that we need those better rail links to bring jobs and prosperity to our towns and cities, jobs and wealth that will otherwise go elsewhere.

When I read this I felt both pleased and disheartened at the same time. Pleased because at last our MP has given his constituents an action plan for improving our diabolical railway service but also disheartened because if his predecessors in both Ipswich and the neighbouring constituencies had pulled their finger out at the beginning of the century, when incidentally I moved to Ipswich to start working for BT, we would now be close to getting the railway service we deserve.

Much of the blame for inaction must be laid at the door of Mr Gummer’s Labour predecessor: Chris Mole. He knew fine well that the railway service under “Anglia Railways” and then “One” was a disgrace and that it was having a detrimental effect on the Ipswich economy. He then became a rail minister under Gordon Brown. But what did he do over the nine years to improve the Great Eastern mainline service when he was our MP, latterly in the Government with responsibility for railways? Ah that’s right: a big fat nothing! Instead he wasted millions on A14 gantry signs which did not work and a pointless traffic lights scheme at Copdock. The guy should be barred from holding public office ever again.

But, to be fair, the Conservatives should also take their fair slice of blame: Tim Yeo in South Suffolk, Sir Michael Lord in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and inconveniently for Ben Gummer, a certain former Member for Suffolk Coastal, Lord Deben (John Gummer), also sat back and took no discernible action during the 2000s.

However, we cannot dwell on the past. Ben Gummer has a plan and I intend to keep the pressure on him to deliver the goods (and offer my support where I can).