Leader warns minister that region won’t accept a ‘make do and mend’ rail line

The main line between Plymouth and London needs to be shorter, straighter and designed for future electrification, Plymouth City Council leader Tudor Evans has told transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Councillor Evans has told the minister that ‘a make do and mend’ approach will not be acceptable now work to repair storm damage at Dawlish is complete and a £31m programme of works to improve flood resilience on other parts of the line is now underway.

He said there was a still high degree of uncertainty about how severe weather might affect the main line in the future and this needed to be properly addressed in the West of Exeter study into improving rail resilience which is due later this year.

In a letter to the minister, Councillor Evans said: ”The level of uncertainty should dismiss any proposal that a ‘make do and mend’ option that simply involves the continual patching up of a Victorian railway in the 21st century as being the best answer to providing fast and resilient rail connections to the Far South West.”

Councillor Evans said the future solution needed to reduce the mileage and enable fast electric trains to be used to provide competitive rail journey times between Plymouth and the rest of the country.

He said there was plenty of evidence of demand as passenger growth in the Far South West had exceeded forecasts for more than a decade, despite a reliance on old rolling stock. Passenger journeys had increased by 109 per cent between 2002 and 2012 compared to 55 per cent nationally.

The Government also needed to recognise the economic potential of the Far South West when deciding on the train specification for the Great Western franchise, as well as the relative economic damage being done in the area with the HS2 project.

Councillor Evans said he welcomed the Transport Select Committee decision to launch an inquiry into investment in the railway network and whether Network Rail has prioritised the right schemes for improving resilience. He said the Peninsula Rail Task Force would be submitting evidence about both priorities for the next five years and the longer term.

He said: “This issue is of utmost importance not just to Plymouth’s economic growth but the economic success or failure of the South West peninsula as a whole. We will be working together as a region to keep the pressure on the Government to finally address many years of failing to invest in our vital rail infrastructure with a proper, sustainable and fully financed solution.”