Proposals to radically improve rail links to the south west of England are set to submitted to government in the Autumn, New Civil Engineer can reveal.
The Peninsula Rail Task Force said that it wanted to see the main line from Paddington in London to Exeter St Davids on the south west coast made ‘bulletproof’ after years of underfunding from the government had left it prone to disruption and delays.
The task force is made up of councils and local enterprises in the south west area.
Speaking at New Civil Engineer’s UK Rail conference Peninsula Rail Task Force chair Andrew Leadbetter said: “Even the government admits that the south west has been forgotten, the gap has been growing between London and the rest of the country and the government recognises that in its manifesto in the last election.”
The task force was set up in 2013 after disruption on the line at Dawlish cut off access to large section of the south west.
It says it now wants a series of signalling upgrades, track improvements and electrification works to make the network more resilient and reliable, provide better connectivity and faster journey times, and ensure that there is sufficient capacity and quality for passengers.
“We in the south west are currently only region of the UK which had no plans for electrification of the rail line and this has to change,” said Leadbetter.
The key infrastructure upgrade demanded by the taskforce is an additional line to be built which would run from Exeter to Plymouth and serve as an alternative route should the main line be closed.
The timing for the new upgrades will be based on the government’s response to the report which is being submitted at the end of this summer.
It was due to be published this week but it has been rescheduled to allow the task force to make the strongest possible case to government for rail improvements. To do this, it requires information that is not yet in the public domain.
The publication of the latest economic data, journey time study findings and a Dawlish resilience study, are all scheduled in the coming weeks and rescheduling the publication of the report will allow the work on these topics to be finalised.
The report will set out a 20 year vision but Leadbetter said that he would like to see some of the improvements being put into action as soon as possible.
“We want some of the plans to be in the next five year funding session,” he said. “Network Rail could start some of this immediately but it’s all about finding the money.”
Asked about the funding of the project, he said that the majority of the money would have to come from the state.
“We have to rely on government money for the most of it, but we do realise that we do have to find other sources of income as we recognise that they’re not just going to give us a blank cheque,” he said.
“But that’s one of the challenges. Because we’re not in London and there isn’t as much money around for development.”
The Peninsula Task Force
The members of the task force are:
- Cornwall Council
- Devon County Council
- Plymouth City Council
- Somerset County Council
- Torbay Council
- Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership
- Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership