A decade of change on the railway

Published on: Tuesday, 31 December 2019
Last updated: Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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Did you know that it was only in the last decade that the region’s first rail app was introduced? It’s incredible isn’t it? It seems like we’ve been using apps forever. A look through the archives from the past ten years highlights how much has changed on the railway in East Anglia – with new trains, new stations and new technology all trickling in over the last ten years.

Another remarkable fact – in the last ten years, there have been four franchises with two owning groups managing the railway in East Anglia. At the start of the decade, National Express was six years in to an eight-year contract. Abellio was awarded a two-year franchise as Abellio Greater Anglia in 2012, which was renewed in 2014, before Abellio was given a long franchise to operate as Greater Anglia, starting in October 2016, when an order was immediately placed for 169 new trains to replace every single train on the network.

Going digital

The new trains are the most high-tech trains that have ever run in East Anglia. But new technology has been introduced across the decade. The region’s first rail app was introduced by National Express in July 2011 – then it was just available on iPhones. Now the app is available for Android or Apple and can even be used for loading season tickets on to smartcards – which were also launched this decade – in 2016.

All new trains are built with free fast wifi as part of the spec, but over the last ten years, wifi has gradually been retro-fitted on many existing trains, starting with the company’s intercity trains in 2011. During the last three years it was fitted on all of the company’s old trains except the old diesel trains.

Over the 2010s, there have been a number of train refurbishment projects. The current intercity trains were upgraded in 2016 when they were fitted with plug points at every seat, toilets which catch waste rather than release it onto the track, new carpet, new upholstery and a fresh lick of paint.

Other trains to be spruced up include diesel trains and some electric trains such as those running from Cambridge and Essex to London Liverpool Street.

New stations and services

Four new stations have been built in the last ten years: Southend Airport station, in 2011, Lea Bridge, in 2016, Cambridge North, in 2017 and Meridian Water, in 2019. Other stations have seen major renovations and improvements, including Marks Tey, in 2012, Colchester, in 2011, Chelmsford, Cambridge and Ipswich in 2016 and Sheringham, this year. Nearly every station on the network now has the most hi-tech ticket machines, complete with help buttons which put customers through to a “virtual ticket agent” – a member of Greater Anglia’s customer service team in Norwich, after they were installed in 2018. Passengers travelling to the station by bike, can now park their bike at every station, with the biggest rail station cycle park in the country opened at Cambridge Station in 2016.

The past ten years has seen growing passenger numbers and many new services providing thousands of extra seats as well. Most recently, a direct Norwich to Stansted Airport was launched in December 2019. Hourly services on the Ipswich-Lowestoft line were first introduced in 2010, initially between Saxmundham and Ipswich and then all the way to Lowestoft from December 2012, first Monday to Saturday only, but from this December including Sundays. An hourly Cambridge to Stansted airport service was introduced in July 2014. Earlier this year, a half-hour service between Stratford and Meridian Water started up. East Anglia became closer to London when the Norwich in 90 minutes and Ipswich in 60 service was introduced in May this year.

Over the last ten years there have been many improvements in punctuality – many months of this year saw record-breaking performance, as did the service during the 2012 London Olympics. Unfortunately, there are still delays from time to time, but there have been improvements introduced to the delay repay compensation scheme, including changing the range of repayment methods and, from this April, broadening the scheme from a start point of 30 minute delays to 15 minutes.

What does the future hold?

The railway in East Anglia is undergoing a transformation of its own – with all new trains being introduced as we start a new decade. Other changes we’re likely to see over the next decade, could include a more simplified fare structure, a change to the way the railway is organised by the Government and more new stations opening across the region, with Beaulieu Park in Essex, and Cambridge South and Soham in Cambridgeshire already in planning stages.