Vision for £500m light railway connecting 24 towns and villages is revealed
- Credit: Archant
Plans have been put forward to link north Norfolk's towns and villages via a £500 million light rail system running from Peterborough to Great Yarmouth.
The rail link could revolutionise the county's transport network and mean millions in extra tourist revenue for our businesses and communities, it is hoped.
Terry Wilding, a former tram driver and light rail advocate, has been working on the plans for three years and outlined the idea at a North Norfolk Labour Party meeting in Cromer.
Mr Wilding said light railway would be particularly cost effective in Norfolk because it is relatively flat there would be no need to build expensive bridges or tunnels.
He said: "We get over five million visitors up here in summer - if that's not enough to justify a light rail system then I don't know what is.
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Mr Wilding said the route - which he has calculated would be 154 miles long and cost around £3m per mile - would cater for trains carrying 200 passengers, as well as bicycles.
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He said: "Light railway trains are all stainless steel, so a three-car train would weigh around 40 tonnes. One heavy rail carriage is 90 tonnes."
The proposed route would make 24 stops between Peterborough and Great Yarmouth, with 18 in north Norfolk including Burnham Market, Holt, Cromer, North Walsham, Aylsham and Stalham.
Mr Wilding said such a link would also tackle the issue of loneliness in isolated communities.
He said: "Some people get on the bus once a week just to meet and talk to other people, and now a lot of those bus routes have been eroded."
David Bill, director and trustee of the Norfolk Orbital Railway, which is working to link Fakenham, Dereham and Holt with the existing network of heritage and Greater Anglia services, said:
"I'm old enough to remember the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, which ran from Peterborough to Great Yarmouth.
"It closed in 1959, and many people thought that was a crime.
"Some of us who were around at that time tried to save parts of it, and because of that Norfolk became one of the centres of the heritage railway industry.
Mr Bill said the Orbital Railway team wanted to offer their support and help to in any way they could to get the light railway plans off the ground
Emma Corlett, who was Labour's North Norfolk candidate at the 2019 general election, said at the meeting the idea was worth considering.
She said: "30pc of people in Norfolk do not have a car - so a light rail system like this is a fantastic idea - light rail systems are about the best way to reduce carbon emissions and expand public transport.
"If the county council are serious about becoming carbon neutral by 2030, this is something that we should take very seriously."
The plans are based on light railways that have been developed over the past 30 years across the USA and Germany.
The trains, which are similar to new trams, run on dedicated rails with their own signalling infrastructure.
Duncan Baker, North Norfolk MP, said he welcomed the idea.
Mr Baker said: "I am a strong advocate for infrastructure and any system that can improve our connectivity is something I'd love to hear more about."
Mr Baker said the government was committed to better transport links, especially with trains, which helped decarbonise the transport sector.
He said: "I look forward to meeting Mr Wilding and understanding his vision to bring transport to our communities that need it most."
George Freeman, Mid Norfolk MP and a former government transport minister, said such a light railway had potential if it was privately financed.
Mr Freeman said: "Interesting idea. There's a massive opportunity for fast, transformational, private sector financed connectivity across places like East Anglia. Government doesn't have to fund it. It just has to enable it."
Mr Wilding plans to launch a petition so people could show their support for the idea, and a website to explain his proposal in greater detail.