This morning I had a long meeting with Network Rail, the Department of Transport, Greater Anglia and other MPs along the Great Eastern Main Line to discuss train improvements and the plans for Beaulieu Station.
Today was also the day when the timetable came back to 95% "normal" capacity, well ahead of most of the country.
During lock-down work has continued on our new trains and on training drivers. You may have already seen the new intercity trains rush by. We will see the first of the new Bombardier trains which will serve most of the Chelmsford to London route by the end of the year and the full roll-out of new trains and carriages should be completed by the end of next summer.
Beaulieu Station is a very exciting project. Readers will recall that the funding for the station project was awarded last year and it is the largest successful bid from the Housing Infrastructure Fund anywhere in the country.
I've been told it is the first time a new station has been put on the Great Eastern Main Line in about 100 years (I'm sure that local historians will double check this for me!). It will provide a major transport interchange for trains, buses and bikes as well as cars.
Crucially, the passing loop at the station will provide the ability for fast trains to overtake stopping services which will mean more trains can run on the entire Norwich to Liverpool Line and along the branch lines. For decades, there have been objections to building a second station at Chelmsford as a simple station with no passing would have slowed trains up for all those travelling into London from stations east of Chelmsford. However because of the passing loop our new station benefits communities all along the Great Eastern Main Line. Hence why it is now supported by representatives of communities all along the mainline.
However, delivering the passing loop is also a highly complex engineering project. Both the London bound line and the Norwich bound lines are going to need to be moved and the grade of both tracks needs to be reduced (ie lowered). New tracks are going to need to be "spliced" into the mainline. It also involves moving signalling, communication and power cables. (Apologies to any railway engineers reading this as I'm sure I have got some of the jargon wrong!).
Whilst much of the work to build the station itself can happen without disturbing current trains, I am sure you can understand that large amounts of the track work can only take place when trains are not running.
The first design stages of the work are now completed and over the next few months a procurement and governance stage will take place before launching a public consultation later this year or early next year. This is needed to get the formal "Transport Works Order" which is needed to move into final design and procurement. Provided there is public support and no massive objections, which could lead to a public enquiry, then the actual building will start in late 2022/or early 2023.
I've been told that in other projects when they have tried to short-cut these parts of the design, procurement and consultation it has actually ended up delaying the final delivery of the project.
Much work has gone into planning the detailed scheduling of the actual construction. If we want to have minimum disruption to trains and focus the engineering works over bank holidays and some weekends then I'm told it should be possible to complete the final build by 2025. We did discuss whether it would be possible to move this earlier but this would require replacement bus services from Witham to Ingatestone for very lengthy periods and would not shorten the construction by many months.
I would love to see this project completed sooner but having been taken through the complexity I do understand why it is so challenging to deliver it faster. So folks, our station is on track, it will take a long time to complete it but I will keep fighting to get it as soon as we possibly can.