Network Rail has agreed to link improvements to Ely North with the growing demand to re-open the Wisbech to March line.

Mayor James Palmer says a new partnership with Network Rail can push Wisbech rail plans forward in tandem with work to free up the Ely rail bottleneck.

“This breakthrough partnership with Network Rail puts us inside the team,” he said.

“Everything can be aligned and streamlined, with no waste of resources, no doubling up, and no unnecessary delays.”

He said it would enable both projects to forge ahead and start “working for people who’ve quite frankly waited long enough”.

Paul Raynes, director of delivery and strategy at the combined authority, has put forward proposals to the transport and infrastructure committee to allocate £300,000 for a next stage of the Wisbech line programme.

It would “align Wisbech Rail with the delivery sequence of the Ely Area Capacity Enhancements”.

Network Rail has been discussing – off and on – for years improvements at Ely and secured funding of £22.4m from the combined authority and Department of Transport to develop a scheme.

There will another round of consultations in 2022 as the proposals to increase capacity through Ely progress to design options.

Network Rail says: “The Ely North junction scheme was a proposal to improve the track layout of the main rail junction to the north of Ely station, however, this work was put on hold following the Hendy review in 2016.

“This has given us the opportunity to review the wider capacity constraints around Ely which also need to be considered in order to meet the aspirations to run more rail services.”

Mayor Palmer has met Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State for Transport, on two occasions to highlight the importance of both Wisbech Rail and Ely Area Capacity Enhancements.

He said the minister subsequently confirmed that the Wisbech Rail project would be considered for funding alongside the business case for Ely.

An initial service between Wisbech and March could be started with direct services to Cambridge following improvements in network capacity at Ely North Junction.

“Connecting Wisbech and unblocking Ely will get the whole of Cambridgeshire moving,” said the mayor.