Task Force reiterates calls for South West investment

“Don’t forget the West Country,” is the message from the Peninsula Rail Task Force, as it continues to bang the drum for railway investment in the region. 

Devon County Councillor Andrew Leadbetter is leading the Task Force, and he told RAIL that the problems at Dawlish in February (RAIL 742-746) have helped to turn the spotlight on the lack of investment in the region. However, discussions into making the case for the region had begun before that. 

“It is really clear. It is a cross-party campaign,” he said. “The North speaks as one voice, and we have to now. 

“We started before Dawlish, but that has helped the cause. It is good that everyone is together, and the Government needs to listen to one voice. We want to be recognised and we have been bypassed.”

He said an economic study is required into the needs of the region, but insisted: “We do not want things to be kicked into the long grass of studies, we want things looked at.”

Leadbetter has made the call to re-open a diversionary route via Okehampton, telling RAIL: “My view is if you are spending cash then you open up north Devon and north Cornwall, and then you have another route.” However, he described the £875 million figure quoted by Network Rail as “ridiculous”. 

He also said that either resilience or speed was needed, but that you could not, realistically, have both. 

“It is very important that it is not an alternative line, it is additional. There are big communities on the coast,” he said.

And the need to invest in railways is clear. “If you take the people off the railway there is no resilient transport network,” he said of the region’s roads. “We feel we have been forgotten. Connectivity is fundamental.”

Plans for an improved Metro service in Devon, a three-hour journey for Plymouth travellers for London, improved connectivity for Cornwall, and potentially electrification to Penzance (RAIL 754) are all “realistic”, he said. “You have to future-proof. 

“I am a pragmatist. You ask for the stars and see what is delivered.”

He also called for clarity regarding the franchising. First Great Western is expected to receive an extension of
up to five years on its present deal, but this has not
been confirmed.

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