‘Better Bittern line’ call as operator changes lay ahead

Extra trains should be run on the booming Bittern line to help the service become an even greater success, as a new operator is lined up to take over the popular service.

This is the call from rail campaigner and North Walsham councillor Eric Seward who is rallying fellow members of the district council to push for improvements on the line, as competing bidders prepare to take over from current operator National Express East Anglia (NXEA) in February.

Mr Seward, who covers the town's north ward, would like to see more trains running on the line, particularly through North Walsham, as well as enhancements to its stations and timetables.

Among the improvements he is gunning for are:

? An hourly service throughout the year on Sundays

? A better late night return service from Norwich

? Trains to run every half hour during peak periods

Most Read

? Better fare arrangements to encourage more people to use the service, including being able to buy tickets in advance and introducing more ticket booths

? Car parking at some stations to be enhanced

Abellio Greater Anglia, Eastern Railway and Stagecoach Anglia Trains are vying to take over from NXEA as an interim operator to run services for 29 months, after which a 15-year rail franchise will be put out to tender.

Mr Seward wants North Norfolk District Council to unite in lobbying the successful operator and the Department for Transport for a better service.

He said: 'We have seen a phenomenal increase in passenger numbers over the last 10 - 12 years and seen improvements to the line, but we can't rest on our laurels. We've got a successful service but it could be even more successful and the council's got to play its full role in doing that.'

Mr Seward pointed particularly to making things better for commuters and passengers from North Walsham, which is often overcrowded on weekdays during peak periods.

'We did a survey of the town last year and 60pc of the people who currently don't consider using the train at all said they would either frequently or occasionally if there was a better service, more appropriate fares and if car parking was better,' he added.

'There's been something like �15m invested in this line over the years and that needs to be utilised and fully utilised.'

The Liberal Democrat member also wants to work with Norman Lamb to push for the line to be used to its maximum potential as he thought the North Norfolk MP would be well placed to lobby government departments and ministers.

The Bittern line has been hailed as a 'lifeline' for people living throughout the district and Mr Seward thought improvements would benefit all members of the community including commuters, school and college pupils, businesses and those that rely on trains as an 'essential' mode of transport.

He called for members to get behind his push for improvements via a motion at last night's full council meeting and hoped to galvanise the authority so it would 'devote time and resources to banging the drum for an improved service'.