Rail task force lobbying for 'urgent' network investment in Westcountry
A new regional task force is lobbying the Government and transport bosses for "urgent" investment in the Westcountry's rail network.
The Peninsula Rail Task Force is calling for increased funding to protect local rail links from grinding to a halt as a result of extreme weather conditions, as well as boost capacity to accommodate an increase in passenger numbers.
It has compiled a report,The South West Spine – the Case for Greater Investment across the South West Peninsula Railway Network, which has been signed by local authority leaders and sent to ministers at the Department for Transport as well as officials in Network Rail.
It calls on the Government to recognise the limits of current rail investment earmarked for the South West.
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Among its outline priorities following floods that brought the mainline to a halt this winter, are improvements to the Exeter-Waterloo line to accommodate diversions in the event of disruption to the main line.
It has also called for an urgent feasibility study into the best options for protecting the rail network against weather-related disruption, including at the Dawlish/Teignmouth seawall.
It also wants the Government to commit to the further electrification of main lines from London to the Far South West including to Paignton and Plymouth and "possibly beyond."
The Peninsula Rail Task Force has recently come together to strengthen the Westcountry's calls for improved connectivity.
It comprises Devon, Cornwall, Torbay and Somerset Councils and the existing Plymouth Rail Task Force, which includes the city's council.
Representatives from South West Chambers, Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership and Cornwall Local Economic Partnership are also set to join the group which will be supported by the regions MPs. Travelwatch South West is advising the group.
Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council cabinet member for highways and transportation, said: "The significance of the Far South West economy has been overlooked for far too long because the population is so widespread.
"Almost 2.2 million people live in our region, twice the size of Tyne & Wear and a third larger than Glasgow City Region – and yet we have had the least amount of infrastructure investment of all UK regions.
"We are determined to improve our local economy for the benefit of our residents, our businesses and our visitors, and we have the potential to achieve high levels of economic growth. The Government has set out a very clear link between rail connectivity and growth – we need to ensure that we work together to achieve this."
Cornwall Council leader James Currie said: "We've experienced consistently high passenger growth on all railway lines in the peninsula over the past decade – in the last decade the figures are up by 94 per cent. However, there are no plans to accommodate this growth in the current, new, interim, or long term Great Western Franchise. We will work together to help rewrite the future of rail in the region."