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Rishi Sunak gives green light to multi million pound rail improvements for Ely, Cambridgeshire

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson tweeted that he was “looking into details re Ely Junction announcement- campaigned hard on this for local communities – we need it asap”.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has given the go ahead for a multi-million pound investment into the rail network at Ely. The money was promised in his speech to the Conservative Party conference.

Solving the bottle neck in the city’s rail infrastructure was contained in just three words ‘Transforming Ely Junction” as part of a promised £6.5 billion “for the rest of the country” that Mr Sunak announced.

Rail transport, he assured party members, was a priority as the prime minister announced the long-expected halt to HS2’s progress beyond Birmingham. Billions will now go to improving rail connectivity in the north but there will be more billions for the rest of the country – including Cambridgeshire.

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His announcement signals good news for Cambridgeshire campaigners who have fought long and hard to get the Ely Junction improvements across the line.

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson tweeted that he was “looking into details re Ely Junction announcement- campaigned hard on this for local communities – we need it asap”.

The route is the UK’s most intensively used freight corridor – but Ely’s mixture of single-track sections, restricted speeds, level crossings and signalling limitations have created a stranglehold where five lines compete for one track.

The route is the UK’s most intensively used freight corridor – but Ely’s mixture of single-track sections, restricted speeds, level crossings and signalling limitations have created a stranglehold where five lines compete for one track.
Graphic kindly provided by a reader who campaigns for local rail and bus improvements

In July Mayor Johnson hosted a summit to address what he termed the ‘Ely Solution’ by bringing together industry leaders and politicians to discuss best ways to pressure the government to unlock funds for major rail infrastructure improvements.

It concluded with them agreeing to send a letter to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Transport Secretary “to help inform their consideration of which rail improvements to approve in the next funding round”.

The summit discussed how boosting Ely rail capacity could transform transport across the country – with a Combined Authority spokesperson noting the summit had suggested a further “comparatively modest investment” to give Soham a direct link to Newmarket and Cambridge.

Newmarket, in turn, would gain new access to Ely, Peterborough, King’s Lynn, and Norwich.

“Wisbech Rail, the Snailwell Loop, and Alconbury Station are small-scale interventions which would pack a big punch in challenging inequality and levelling up across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and the wider Eastern region,” said the spokesperson.

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NE Cambs MP Steve Barclay would agree with that.

Nine years ago, Mr Barclay hosted his own summit in parliament with Transport Minister, Stephen Hammond and a host of political leaders and rail experts.

Experts believe that once more capacity is added at Ely, re-opening of the March to Wisbech line becomes more likely.

The transport minister described the reopening the March to Wisbech line as “a strategic priority”.

Little happened, of course, prompting Mr Barclay, four years later, to show signs of losing his cool over delays to re-opening the line.

“Like many constituents I find it odd that we fought a Second World War in fewer years than it seems to take to reopen a few miles of track,” he said.

“I will continue to do everything I can to make the case to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and the Department of Transport and remain optimistic that we will get this scheme delivered.”

SW Norfolk MP Liz Truss has also favoured the summit route to attract attention to Ely’s rail problems.

Five years ago, she hosted a summit in Ely which heard from Meliha Duymaz, Network Rail’s route managing director for Anglia, that the improvements were originally due to be carried out between 2009 -14 but the scheme had been deferred.

Former Mayor James Palmer now heads the Eastern Powerhouse – a business think tank – and has been hosting meetings at the Conservative Party conference to attract investment into the east.

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