The Peninsula Rail Task Force (PRTF) is a partnership of local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). These are Cornwall Council, Devon County Council, Plymouth City Council, Somerset County Council and Torbay Council , as well as the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP and Heart of the South West LEP.
As a united voice, our aim is to campaign for greater investment in the South West Peninsula rail to ensure there is a strategic rail network fit for purpose.
Investment in the South West Peninsula rail network is essential to ensure the South West economy has the opportunity to thrive and grow.
The period of disruption to rail services seen in early 2014 at both Dawlish and across the Somerset Levels, cost the South West economy an estimated £1.2billion. This can never happen again, which is why the resilience of the mainline is the top priority for the PRTF. Solutions to reduce the vulnerability of the line due to coastal erosion, flooding at the Somerset Levels, wave damage around Dawlish Station, landslips between Parson’s Tunnel and Teignmouth, must be identified and funding secured.
Trends show that passenger numbers are continuing to rise and are regularly outstripping national growth figures over the last two decades. The rail service is an essential network that needs to be strengthened through investment that will both protect connectivity and boost the Peninsula economy.
The PRTF is calling on the Government to commit to long-term investment that will deliver the improvements outlined in the document, ‘Closing the gap’. This 20-year plan for investment demonstrates the need to close the growing gap between the South West and the rest of the UK in terms of rail funding and improvements.
With the budget for HS2 now an estimated £106billion, asks by the PRTF for delivery of its 20-year plan, which in total cost an estimated £3billion for a programme of works up to 2030, are minor by comparison. The 20-year plan, put to the Government in 2016, would completely revolutionise the South West network and impact journeys across the South West, London and up to the Midlands.
This investment will ensure that the South West Peninsula has a resilient, reliable, high-quality rail network that delivers on our three priorities:
A resilient and reliable railway: protecting the coastal mainline is our top priority. The South West rail network needs a resilient line, with trains that are capable of operating all year round. Whilst work has commenced on the Dawlish seas wall, final designs for essential resilience works along the section from Teignmouth to Parsons Tunnel are still to be confirmed. This project is currently unfunded and we need to ensure that the Government commits to funding these essential works.
There also needs to be a commitment to complete development work for a package of infrastructure enhancements to deliver greater track capacity between Castle Cary and Exeter, along the Exeter to Waterloo line via Honiton and Yeovil. This will both facilitate trains being diverted in the event of line blockades on the main line via Taunton, but also enable frequency increases serving Honiton and Cranbrook.
Reducing journey times and better connectivity between our key UK markets, including London, the Midlands and the North. The PRTF has stated that there needs to be infrastructure and signalling improvements and an introduction of modern rolling stock for the CrossCountry Voyager fleet. In addition, there needs to be an increase in frequency of trains to a two-hourly semi-fast service from Paddington to Exeter initially, and then increased to hourly and extended from Exeter to Plymouth.
Increasing capacity and comfort will transform the service for passengers. There needs to be an increase in the frequency of trains and the number of seats must meet forecasted passenger growth. We need to see the introduction of pioneering digital services to drive a world leading passenger experience. There must a commitment for continuous, reliable and quality Wifi and mobile signal allowing users to be productive across the entire rail network. Mainline services need to offer on-board catering of a consistent and high-quality standard and there needs to be increased luggage capacity to deliver a high-quality passenger experience.