Members and officers were joined by representatives of user groups, transport operators and other interest groups at an all-day conference last month to assess scope for developing rail passenger and freight facilities.
Participants stressed the importance of establishing a realistic vision for rail. This included the evaluation of potential new routes, such as Stansted to Braintree, Chelmsford to Canvey and Chelmsford to Southend. Changing patterns of work, the threat of congestion and the pressure of new housing required a positive rail response. More needs to be done to boost the image of rail and rail/road links through improved access to information, reliability and customer-friendly service.
The demand for more capacity on existing services was held to be self-evident.
Rail investment needs to be treated in a way equal to that for highways, taking account of cost and benefits for the environment. Sites suitable for rail use (passenger interchanged freights sidings) should be earmarked for future demand.
Businesses in Essex will be called upon to play a bigger part in sustainable mobility by examining employee travel and freight logistics.
Within a more inclusive society, participants wanted to see better accessibility for people with restricted mobility through staff training and station design.
The next step will be for the county council to take forward strategic rail policies as an integral part of local transport plans. These will be subject to member approval before being presented to central government in the summer.
Neil Spurgeon, chairman of highways and transportation said: 'This was an extremely useful day which formed part of our on-going participation with everybody in producing the Essex local transport plan. I fully support the proposal agreed at the review to create a 'Strategic Rail Partnership' to accompany and support rail policies. Today is just the beginning'.