Ely enhancements for Port of Felixstowe route across UK

Ely-track-alignment-top (Network Rail)

Increased capacity is key to the development of intermodal rail freight from the Port of Felixstowe, on England’s East Coast. Passenger services in the region are due for upgrade as well, and the public at large have been invited to have their say in a six-week long consultation around the critical junction of Ely. Up to twenty-two trains per hour could operate through the small cathedral city in Cambridgeshire.

The UK infrastructure management agency Network Rail has announcing the first phase of public consultation for proposals to upgrade the railway around Ely, the modest cathedral city fourteen miles (22.5 kilometres) north of Cambridge. Ely is an important junction for five lines, including routes to and from the Port of Felixstowe, Britain’s busiest intermodal terminal. The first public consultation opens on 21 September and will run for six weeks.

A vital part of the rail network

Currently operating at full capacity, the railway through Ely is a vital part of the rail network that includes a busy junction where five railway lines converge, providing important routes to key destinations for passenger and freight services.

The Ely area capacity enhancement (EACE) programme is a proposal to upgrade the railway to allow more trains to run through Ely. Network Rail say the project is designed to improve connectivity and reliability, and meet the demand for more rail freight between the Port of Felixstowe the West Midlands and the North to support sustainable, long-term economic growth.

Local traffic and lines to Felixstowe

Ely is a traffic generating location in its own right. At Ely North Junction, lines diverge for the East Coast Main Line at Peterborough; the electrified main line to Kings Lynn; and a branch connecting to Norwich. There are also at the location an aggregates and asphalt yard, operated by two companies. The main picture shows Ely North Junction from the aggregate yard, with the lines heading to Peterborough (left), King’s Lynn (centre), and Norwich (right).

To the south of the passenger station, the main line continues to London, while a branch crosses the River Great Ouse heading for Ipswich and Felixstowe. The branch bridge was destroyed in a freight derailment in 2007. A replacement for the single track line was installed with passive provision for a second track to be installed at a later date, which may soon be required.

Engage with business and residents

Despite the lower overall intrusion than with equivalent road developments, rail projects tend to attract disproportionately high levels of adverse attention. However, Network Rail is keen to involve the community at an early stage. Businesses and residents around Ely are being invited learn more about the programme during the rest of this year and in 2021. The initial consultation, to be conducted online due to coronavirus restrictions, will explain the benefits, challenges and funding position.

“It is important that we provide opportunities to engage with the communities that are impacted by our work as it develops”, said Ellie Burrows, Network Rail’s route director for Anglia. “By starting these discussions early, we hope to embark on this journey with the community and progress these proposals together, finding the right solution for the railway and for Ely.”

Eleven train paths per hour each way

The aspiration of the EACE programme is to increase capacity through Ely for up to eleven train paths per hour in each direction. Up to ten freight and passenger services could be accommodated, with the existing Norwich-Liverpool passenger services reversing in Ely and using two paths.

Historic picture of operations in Ely prior to the last major upgrade, which cleared semaphore signals and installed overhead line equipment in the early 1990s. 56103 hauling a northbound bulk construction materials train (wiki Commons)

Over 22 million British pounds (24.2 million euros) has been secured from various funding partners for necessary scoping work. Future stages of the EACE programme including public consultation activities later in 2021. Submission of consents is subject to securing additional funding from the Department for Transport following their Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) process. No timetable has yet been proposed for the programme of works.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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