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South West study funding confirmed

Studies into the potential for faster journey times and electrification from London to the South West are now being funded, following weeks of uncertainty that they would not take place until Control Period 6, which starts in 2019.

The Department for Transport announced on February 9 that a study commissioned by Great Western Railway (GWR) and carried out by Network Rail would examine potential infrastructure improvements to improve line speeds in the South West. The work will inform a Peninsula Rail Task Force (PRTF) report due this summer, which will make recommendations on future upgrades and potential changes to franchises in Devon, Cornwall and the wider South West.

However, as late as February 5, following pressure from MPs and business organisations in the South West, Rail Minister Claire Perry was unable to provide a guarantee of funding the studies.

In a Commons Written Reply to Shadow Transport Secretary Lilian Greenwood, Perry said: “We are absolutely committed to making sure that the South West has the best infrastructure possible, and we are determined to do everything possible to stop damage like we saw in 2014 happening again. We are working with Network Rail and the Peninsula Rail Task Force as they explore the potential for longer-term improvements in the area, and decisions on funding for these improvements will be taken in due course.”

The PRTF said: “We are pleased that funding has been found to explore the potential for faster journey time and electrification for the Peninsula Rail Task Force report. We alerted DfT about this issue in December, so it is helpful that this has finally been sorted.  

“The support from GWR enables us to fulfil our joint commitment to a detailed and rigorous document, which is something that all agreed was required from the outset. It is clear that after a weekend of substantial disruption on February 6/7, our railway network is long overdue for investment.”

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