The PRTF was formed in early 2013 in the aftermath of severe flooding across the region. This included several low-lying points across the Peninsula rail network, as well as the closure of the main line at Cowley. At one point both rail lines were closed simultaneously due to flooding and landslips, severing most of the region entirely from the rest of the UK. The resulting railway closures devastated local communities and had detrimental impacts upon the economy.
In response to these repeated weather-related disruptions, and with evidence pointing to more frequent extreme weather events, the five councils – Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – came together to create the PRTF and commissioned the ‘South West Spine Report‘. The report set out the vulnerability of the rail network to extreme weather events following the events of 2012/2013, and demonstrated how investment has lagged well behind the national average. In addition, it highlighted how mainline train speeds were amongst the slowest in the country, and that train capacity was not keeping up with passenger growth, leading to overcrowding.
Following this, the Task Force developed the ‘3-Point Plan‘, which identified the three critical requirements that must be delivered through a planned and sequential investment programme:
- Resilience and reliability
- Faster and better connectivity
- Capacity and comfort
The PRTF called for Government support of the ‘3-Point Plan’. As a result, in Autumn 2014, the Government commissioned the Task Force to identify and recommend strategic and local rail improvements to Ministers, up to 2034. This is the end of the national rail funding programme, known as control period eight.
The PRTF first published ‘On-Track’ in October 2015. This interim report maintained the importance of the three priorities and defined the workstream studies required to inform the final report.
Since ‘On-Track’ the PRTF has worked with its partners Network Rail, the Department for Transport and Great Western Railway to undertake extensive studies and research on how to achieve its aims. These results are presented in ‘Closing the Gap’, which sets out the South West Peninsula strategic rail blueprint for the next 20 years.