Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has backed calls for infrastructure improvements that would make rail travel times to the West Country around 25% quicker.
The Peninsula Rail Task Force, which is calling for £7.6bn of investment in the south west’s rail network, said its first meeting with the secretary of state had been “helpful”.
The group, which comprises public and private sector organisations from Devon and Cornwall, also met with officials from the Department for Transport and Network Rail. It wants the region’s rail network to be faster, more resilient and reliable, and have sufficient capacity.
This includes cutting the fastest journey times from London by a quarter with journeys to Plymouth taking two hours fifteen minutes instead of three hours.It also involves cutting journey from London to Truro from over four hours to three hours 15 minutes.
The meeting, a year after the rail line was severed on the south Devon coast, coincided with another weekend of disruption on the south-west rail network due to signalling problems.
Task force chair Andrew Leadbetter said: “This weekend has seen further disruption and chaos for travellers – and has underlined our case perfectly. We need a far better rail service with resilience that can deal with these sorts of incidents.
“Our meeting last week was a good start. Initial discussions show that our plans align to those emerging from Network Rail in the Western Route Study, and it is clear there is shared ambition to see structured and long term investment into the South West.
“Our priorities are for a resilient railway that can get travellers to their destination with speed and in relative comfort which is far from the case at the moment. Resilience – protecting the main line through the Somerset Levels, Cowley Bridge and along the coast via Dawlish – is the corner-stone of our plans, so it has been reassuring to hear that the prime minister backs this principle, as well as greater investment into all our strategic connectivity.
“It was also helpful to hear that the secretary of state supports a key priority to achieve faster journey times with a goal of two hours 15 minutes to Plymouth, and three hours 15 minutes to Truro. It is obviously an incremental process, but we are keen to work with Network Rail and the government to work out the best ways to invest to achieve these aims as soon as possible. We intend that we should have a joint draft plan by mid-summer.”
McLoughlin said: “I am absolutely committed to ensuring that passengers in the South West benefit from a world class rail network. That is why we are working with the rail industry and the South West Peninsula Rail Task Force to look at potential long term improvements for the region’s railways, including options for additional routes around Dawlish.
“We are also investing £30M to improve the resilience of the Great Western Mainline route, in order to ensure there is no repeat of the disruption we saw a year ago.”
The task force is a partnership including five local authorities – Cornwall County Council, Devon County Council,Somerset County Council, Plymouth City Council and Torbay Council. The South West Chamber of Commerce is also a partner, along with the University of Plymouth and Exeter.
The signal failure over the weekend is being investigated by Network Rail and a statement detailing the reasons behind this is expected shortly.