Readers will be familiar with the story of how the railway came to Ipswich in 1846. The Eastern Counties Railway (ECR) planned to link Norwich to London via Ipswich but abandoned the project at Colchester when an alternative alliance was developed via Cambridge with the 'Norwich & Brandon'. It was left to the local people to form the Eastern Union Railway (EUR), with Peter Bruff as its engineer, to continue the line to Ipswich opening in June 1846 and by the end of the year the Ipswich and Bury railway had been opened. The next route to be opened was the East Suffolk line in 1859 and finally, in 1877, the line from Westerfield to Felixstowe.
It was the fortunes of Felixstowe Port in the latter part of the twentieth century as a major container port that prompted local Councillor, Phil Smart, to ponder the desirability of creating a north facing link to take freight trains to the midlands from Westerfield. The original proposal was a joint construction with the then proposed 'Northern by-pass', later dropped when the road scheme was abandoned.
In the year 2000 the government proposed developing the 'Felixstowe to Nuneaton' rail route. By then the Harris factory on Hadleigh Road had closed offering another option. Phil drew up a scheme and persuaded the council to protect the site from alternative development. In August 2000 Railtrack was not convinced that "the curvature across the Harris site would accommodate the minimum 7.5 chains radius curve necessary for freight trains" and that there was no commercial case for them to be involved. However, backing from the Rail Freight Group and Felixstowe Port helped to secure the route in the 2001 Ipswich Local Plan.
In 2009 Network Rail, who emerged after the demise of Railtrack, announced their intention to build. Construction has been underway for over a year now and the first trains are due to run in March 2014. Phil Smart will be giving a Society Winter Illustrated Talk on 'Getting back on track' on Wednesday 19 February 2014.
The line is part of an attempt to avoid 750,000 lorry movements using the A14, but with the recent opening of the new rail terminal at Felixstowe attention must now turn to upgrading the Felixstowe branch to double track wherever possible.
The increasing proportion of freight going by rail is good news for the environment but good news for rail passengers too. By diverting freight trains across country, more capacity becomes available between Ipswich and London and, as the case for electrification of the route from Felixstowe to Nuneaton is strengthened, passengers for Peterborough and Cambridge can look forward to faster services in future.
Many thanks to Phil Smart for the information in this article.