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Taskforce calls for funding boost to bolster peninsular services

The Peninsula Rail Task Force has used its final report to call for extensive investment to boost the resilience of the south west rail network.

The south west suffers a deficit of transport investment compared to the rest of the country totalling £2bn over the past 20 years. Currently, less than 50% of trains in the region arrive on time.

The region is also predicted to suffer increased flooding linked to climate change, which could cause the rail line at Dawlish to close every four years by 2065.

Extreme weather-related disruptions at Dawlish and the Somerset Levels have cost £1.2bn, and there have been 36 days of disruption since the line reopened in 2015.

Cllr Andrew Leadbetter of Exeter city council, who chairs the taskforce, said: “Our message to government is plain: there must be real enhancements to our rail network, improving existing provision.

“Reduced services, loss of connections and slower trains are unacceptable. Whilst our rail network cannot be transformed overnight, we must tackle the decades of underinvestment, we must start now and we must hold true to that course in the years to come.”

The report, ‘Closing the Gap’ – The South West Peninsula strategic rail blueprint, which was published this week after its publication date was postponed from July, called for £284m resilience investment to be delivered by 2019, including securing the main rail line through Dawlish and Teignmouth.

Its other immediate priorities were procuring CrossCountry rolling stock that is capable of operating along sea walls in all weathers, and completing flood resilience works at Cowley Bridge, Somerset Levels, and Hele & Bradninch.

In addition, the report set ambitious targets for reduced journey times, with trains travelling to London in 90 minutes from Taunton, 105 minutes from Exeter, 135 minutes from Plymouth and Paignton, and 210 minutes from Truro.

To deliver this, it recommended requiring the new South Western franchise operator to introduce an extra two trains an hour from Plymouth to London by 2019.

The DfT has also indicated its support for reduced South Western journey times in the franchise ITT.

Other immediate recommended investments from the taskforce include £2.5m for GRIP 3 options for the diversionary route east of Exeter, £22m for GRIP 3 options for reducing journey times and investing £25m for on-board wi-fi and phone connectivity.

This was followed by a programme of recommendations for 2019-24, including:

  • Investing £301m to complete Dawlish seawall and cliffs resilience, the diversionary route between Exeter and Castle Cary and estuary flood protection
  • Investing £1.5bn in infrastructure improvements, partial electrification and franchise renewals to reduce journey times to Penzance by up to 14 minutes
  • Investing £150m in reducing journey times and increasing core capacity on the Exeter –Waterloo line

Last week, the Department for Transport announced £10m resilience funding for the railway between Exeter and Newton Abbot.

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