Monday, 16 July 2012

Dear Government - The South West exists (and we need a better rail network) - UPDATED

The news is full this morning of the welcome announcement by the Government of £9 billion investment in the rail network. But how much of that money is being used to improve rail services in the South West? Precisely nothing.

I understand that there is a need for investment elsewhere, but consider our plight. The antiquated trainline beyond Exeter means that services slow to a crawl beyond that point. The lack of a high speed (or even a decent speed) network means that firms are often unwilling to invest in our area and tourists find it quicker to navigate Heathrow in peak holiday season than the single track through Dawlish.

The map that accompanied today's announcement is also pretty galling - missing out much of Devon and all of Cornwall - as if the Department for Transport have forgotten we even exist.

I know that, sadly, any hope of a rail line through most of North Cornwall is pie in the sky - our only hope of any service at all seems to be a spur from Bodmin Parkway to Bodmin Town. But could the Government not see the case for investing in upgrading the current provision?

At least for the time being, it seems those of us in East Cornwall will continue to drive to Exeter and pay extortionate parking charges to get to London, whilst those in the West will have to carry on reading War and Peace while they chug along.

UPDATE - I've just caught up with the fact that, rather than standing still, rail services in Devon and Cornwall will actually be going backwards. At present there are nine through journeys to Penzance per day. Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers intends to cut this to six as part of the new Great Western Franchise. This might have been ok if the services between Penzance and Exeter could have been improved as Cornwall Council asked for. The authority made the case for a half hourly service using the surplus diesel rail stock created by the move to more electrification. We even offered to pay for the signal upgrades. But the Government has said no. Quite rightly, the Council is very angry about this.

My colleague Robin Teverson has said this:

"Lord Robin Teverson, Cornwall Council and Cornwall & Scilly LEP member has described today's announcement of £9 billion rail investment across the nation as an insult to Cornwall.

'We have this announcement just as the Transport Minister Teresa Villiers finalises the new franchise agreement for the Great Western area which reduces the number of daily direct rail services from London to Penzance from nine to six.  Not only that, she has rejected the idea of a regular half hourly service along Cornwall's main line.

'So at a time of good news for the rest of the nation when it comes to their rail services, Cornwall looks forward to service cuts, more overcrowding, and out of date rolling stock.

'Cornwall has invested more in its own rail network than any other local authority.  That investment has been successful.  The increase in passengers are travelling by rail has been the highest in the country.  Our reward?  A reduction in the quality of services under the next franchise.

'Even in the long term the picture is grim.  South Wales now has its electrification plans all the way to Swansea.  We only get as far as Reading - some 200 miles short of the Tamar.

'Cornwall has taken a lead in putting in investment to its rail services, and has seen the growth it produces, we deserves better.  I call on Teresa Villiers to change the franchise specification now."

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