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East

Misery line cheers up
By BBC East Transport Correspondent Ross McWilliam

The new rail companies in East Anglia appear to have risen to the challenges posed by privatisation. Punctuality and reliability performance figures are good and passenger numbers are on the increase.

WAGN has seen passengers rolling in, more trains are running but peak time routes are under strain. It's not unusual for customers paying thousands of pounds for a season ticket into London to find themselves without a seat.

The London Tilbury Southend (LTS) service used to be known as the Misery Line, infamous for overcrowded trains, delays and cancellations. It was awarded one of the longest franchises, 15 years, reflecting the amount of work the government thought was needed to improve it.

But since its franchise was awarded in 1996 the level of satisfaction among passengers has already risen dramatically. Research for the BBC forecasts this has the potential to be a highly profitable service, with demand rising by a remarkable 77% by the end of the franchise in 2012.

Expensive bottlenecks

Trains from Cambridge to the capital also have to contend with two of the country's worst bottlenecks - the Hitchin crossing and the Welwyn viaduct - examples of an ageing rail system that can't cope with a modern network. Sorting out those bottlenecks will cost Railtrack many millions of pounds.

Anglia Railways, which operates from Norwich and Ipswich is winning rave reviews from passengers with new trains and new services. But as its subsidy from the government is taken away in huge chunks there are fears about whether that investment can continue.

The company claims it can and planning is well underway for an exciting new service from East Anglia across London to the Dome and Heathrow airport.

Like many other rail companies Anglia has found increased demand has put pressure the need for more train drivers. A recruitment drive has attracted a large number of women trainees in what historically has been a male dominated profession.

BBC East's Matter of Fact will have a live television debate on Thursday 2 December at 1930. The managing director of First Great Eastern Railways, the zone director for Railtrack and the chairman of the Rail Users Consultative Committee will be providing the answers to questions put to them by presenter Stewart White.

BBC broadcaster Richard Spendlove - an employee of British Rail for 30 years - will also be giving his personal view on how things things have changed- for better or worse - on our railways.