A multi-million pound package has been agreed to pay for a feasibility study of a proposed major upgrade to East Anglia’s rail network.
The £8.8 million scheme for research into the Ely north junction was originally outlined at a rail summit in January.
But the money has only now been confirmed following the approval of regional business leaders.
Both of the region’s local enterprise partnerships, New Anglia and Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough (GCGP) have agreed to invest £3.3 million in the scheme.
The remainder is being provided by the Strategic Freight Network.
Officials say the scheme is the first of its kind in the country and will ensure the project is “at the front of the queue” for building work to begin sooner rather than later.
South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss praised the task force, chaired by West Norfolk Council chief executive Ray Harding, which has been leading work on the project in recent months.
She said: “This is a key infrastructure project in the East that will provide a fantastic boost not only to the economy of South West Norfolk but the wider region as well.”
Mid-Norfolk MP George Freeman added: “Faster rail links are critical to giving more people in Norfolk access to the new jobs and opportunities being created in Cambridge.
“For too long the Norwich-Cambridge line has been a Dad’s Army tank engine when it should be an innovation express.
“It is good news that we have got the funding to tackle the Ely junction bottleneck.”
Although the exact cost of upgrading the junction is still unclear, officials have estimated the work could generate up to half a billion pounds in economic benefits to the region as a whole.
It is intended that the study will help to make the case for work to be undertaken early in the next funding period for rail upgrade projects, which begins in 2019. The scheme was delayed until at least that point following the Hendy review of Network Rail’s investment programme in late 2015.
The LEP investment was finalised after growth deal funding worth tens of millions of pounds was allocated to them by the government.
New Anglia chairman Mark Pendlington said: “We’re confident that our investment can convince government of the vital need for this project, and create the rail network businesses and passengers want and deserve.”
His GCGP counterpart Mark Reeve said: “By working together with New Anglia LEP and Network Rail we are meeting the Government’s challenge to fund feasibility work locally to accelerate the delivery of this scheme.”
Richard Schofield, route managing director for Network Rail, said the initiative also showed how it was changing the way it works with local stakeholders.
He said: “This is a fantastic example of the power of local decision making.
“This was never just a rail scheme, the benefits can be realised much more widely.
“By working collaboratively across industries and boundaries we’ve achieved a really innovate approach to funding development work here.
“If it demonstrates a positive business case, the upgrades would benefit the region for years to come and help us to deliver our ambitious railway upgrade plan.”