Where in the UK has there been a 123% increase in rail passenger numbers over the past 11 years, double the national average, but only a £41 per head investment in rail, compared to £100 per head across the whole of England?.
Answer: the South West peninsula.
It has a bigger population than either the Glasgow City Region or Tyne and Wear, and a bigger economy than South Wales, but suffers the lowest Government investment in transport in the country: just £182 per head. London, in contrast, receives £545 per head.
By 2017, the South West will be the only English region without an electrified rail network.
And as last winter’s events in Dawlish showed, its rail link to the rest of England is hardly reliable.
The chronic under-funding of the South West peninsula’s strategic rail and road links did not happen on this Government’s watch; the switch back ride of transport policy changes, plus economic boom and bust over the decades have taken their toll.
Combine that legacy with the peninsula’s climate change-driven extreme weather and you have a perfect storm of puny resilience, poor connectivity, and punitive costs to business growth and confidence.
That’s why the Peninsula Rail Task Force, a campaign group made up of the region’s local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, has been urging the Government to back our three-point plan for £7.6bn of investment in the South West’s rail infrastructure:
- Protect the main lines through the Somerset Levels and along the coastline.
- Build additional lines for resilience and improved connectivity.
- Introduce electrification, better signalling and modern trains.
This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
Investing in the South West’s rail infrastructure and services will boost the economy by £1bn a year, according to research by Parsons Brinckerhoff.
These rail links are lifelines for the peninsula. Any disruption has a big impact on people’s lives, business and confidence.
We don’t need any more reminders, timely or otherwise, about the poor resilience of the peninsula’s rail and road links with the rest of the UK.
The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have both talked positively about investing in the peninsula’s rail and road network.
But words never built anything.
What we need now is a big investment by the Government to put right decades of under-funding in our transport connections, giving the region a stronger, faster rail network, along with a stronger, faster A303/A30/A358 corridor.
- Andrew Leadbetter is chair of the Peninsula Rail Task Force