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Reader letter: ‘Light rail vision is seriously flawed’

PUBLISHED: 09:33 02 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:33 02 March 2020

A historic map of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway.

 Could a similar rail link once again link Great Yarmouth and Peterborough?  Picture: The William Marriott Museum, Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway Society

A historic map of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. Could a similar rail link once again link Great Yarmouth and Peterborough? Picture: The William Marriott Museum, Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway Society

The vision for £500m light railway connecting 24 towns and villages reported last week, while an interesting concept, is unfortunately seriously flawed.

Certainly light rail does offer a relatively environmentally friendly mode of travel, especially in urban areas where such schemes have proved very successful, if expensive.

Routes in Norfolk would largely connect small rural settlements and market towns offering limited traffic opportunities - the very reason many of the lines were closed in the first place.

Most importantly, exactly how realistic are the indicative costs.

For example the recent tram-train scheme linking Sheffield and Rotherham came in at over £75 million and merely upgraded some 10 miles of existing freight lines.

Many other schemes have utilised former heavy rail lines and while the proposals potentially use sections of former rail routes these have often been built over or taken back into agricultural use.

All land would have to be bought back from current owners and new land procured.

Where old infrastructure does exist it is likely to be in poor condition, not having been maintained for over 50 years. The quoted £3 million per mile is wildly optimistic when, for comparison, a half mile extension of a narrow gauge railway in Wales is estimated to cost £2.5 million.

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Realistically the real cost for 154 miles would be well in excess of £1.2 billion based on the Sheffield tram-train costs.

That is just for the track, stations and overhead power supplies.

There is then the added cost of the trams themselves. A three-car Stadler Citylink tram-train carrying 88 seated and 150 standing passengers (a different, largely seated version would be needed for rural services) currently costs in excess of £8.5 million.

Possibly 20 or more units would be needed to operate a frequent service with a capital cost of some £170 million.

An interesting scheme but, with potential costs well in excess of £1.5 billion it is, like the Norfolk Orbital Railway, just another pipe dream.

What Norfolk really needs is increased investment to improve services on the Bittern and Wherry lines and the re-integration of the Wymondham-Dereham line into the national network, with a new Dereham station south of the A47.

Both are feasible and relatively cheap to do. If a light rail scheme is to be considered then Kings Lynn to Hunstanton is a prime candidate and much needed to reduce congestion on the A149. In addition there should be a good quality and frequent bus service between the main towns that is properly integrated with current train services.

PAUL HEINRICH

Thirlby Road

North Walsham


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