East Suffolk Line Continues to Thrive - Passenger Numbers Up 92% in 4 Years
The East Suffolk line between Ipswich and Lowestoft is continuing to thrive following the introduction of an hourly service by Abellio Greater Anglia in December 2012. Passenger numbers are now up by 92% on 2009/10, the last year before the start of the upgrades which culminated in a full hourly service along the entire route being launched just over 18 months ago. Passenger journeys on the line in 2013/14 reached 662,000 (despite disruption caused by flooding in December 2013) compared to 345,000 in 2010, as the train has become a much more regular and convenient option for journeys along this key corridor.
The new era has also seen an ongoing programme of customer-focused improvements for this important route, as a result of a proactive partnership between Abellio Greater Anglia, Suffolk County Council and the East Suffolk Community Rail Partnership. They include:
- New ticket vending machines to enable easy ticket purchase and collection at Beccles, Saxmundham and Woodbridge, which have issued over 55000 tickets between them in the first year since they were installed
- New help points at Halesworth and Melton; new Customer Information Screens at Oulton Broad South and Beccles and extensions and improved lighting for Melton and Wickham Market car parks
- Introduction of print-at-home and mobile ticketing for a number of advance purchase tickets available from stations along the line
- Completion of the £3m refurbishment programme for the two-carriage Class 156 trains used on the line, with new toilets, new carpets, dado panels, seat covers and a deep clean as well as the installation of a new passenger information system which delivers automatic announcements.
- Station re-painting at all stations along the line
- Production of interpretation boards to promote the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that are accessible from Darsham, Melton and Woodbridge
- New bus links and through ticketing between Halesworth and Southwold
- Car park improvements at Melton and Wickham Market
- Improved cycle facilities at stations with the "Bike and Go" cycle hire scheme introduced at Lowestoft and more cycle parking at Ipswich station - including a "Cyclepark+" compound providing free, secure, covered parking for over 100 cycles on the station platform (requiring only an initial £25 deposit for a key fob) and 60 more sheltered cycle spaces installed within the station car park.
Another significant development took place in September 2013, when Suffolk County Council, Waveney District Council and Abellio Greater Anglia opened a new bus-rail interchange at Lowestoft station. The modern interchange, constructed on the station forecourt, provides customers with sheltered seating and real-time bus information to help them plan their journey. The improvements also included an exclusive bus lane which has enabled buses to pick up and drop off customers at the station without disrupting the flow of other traffic.
Looking forward, Abellio Greater Anglia is continuing to work closely with Suffolk County Council, the East Suffolk Community Rail Partnership, the East Suffolk Travellers Association and Visit Suffolk to promote the line and encourage even more people to take the train. The company has also committed to introducing two additional services (one in each direction) on Sundays from May 2015 and there are plans for further station improvements.
Commenting on this exciting new phase for the East Suffolk line, Jonathan Denby, Head of Corporate Affairs said:
"We're delighted to see that the hourly service along the whole East Suffolk route is encouraging more and more people to take the train. The major increase in passenger numbers over the last four years shows clearly that an upgraded, more frequent train service is a real alternative to the car. As well as connecting communities along the line, making it easier for commuting and shopping trips, the better service makes the area more attractive for tourism and short breaks, supports the local economy and provides greater access to education and employment. By working together with partners who share an interest in the success of the East Suffolk line, we are helping to create an exciting new phase in the history of the line, with a much more convenient service, good value fares and better customer facilities. We're committed to making the Ipswich to Lowestoft route an even greater success and an even more valuable asset to the communities it serves in East Suffolk."