Plymouth City Council
Plymouth PL1 2AA
The case for better rail links for the South West
Key organisations, businesses, the region's MPs and councils are joining forces to press the case for better rail links for the South West.
A campaign is being launched today calling for better rail services for the region which could be worth an extra £94 million pounds per year to the economy.
A rail task force has been set up and is calling for businesses and individuals to get across the message that rail is vital to the city and the region's growth. And the task force will be telling ministers that for an annual extra investment of £10 million into rail links between the city and London, the returns would be almost ten times the value.
The task force is putting its case for investment ahead of the Greater Western rail franchise, which is being retendered in April 2013.
The Department for Transport has begun a formal consultation on the new 15-year franchise, giving the region a unique opportunity to make representations to Government on what is needed to improve rail connectivity as well as lobby prospective train companies bidding to operate the new franchise.
A timetable of improvements for Plymouth has been put together which sets out achievable improvements to existing rail services to and from Plymouth and the wider local network that could be made during the next franchise period. It also details longer term ambitions such as feasibility studies and ground work ahead of a commitment to extend electrification of services to Plymouth.
Chair of the task force, Councillor Kevin Wigens, Cabinet Member for Transport at Plymouth City Council said: "Better rail connectivity will make a huge difference to the city's ability to attract investment and achieve its growth ambitions.
"This consultation is an opportunity for the city and the wider region as a whole to set out its stall. While we know there is no endless pot of money, we have put together a key list of improvements that are achievable, affordable and deliverable.
"We're all served by the same line to London and all suffer from the same poor timetable, overcrowding and slow journey times. We have already written to Teresa Villiers, Minister of State for Transport to reflect this concern."
Mark Coker, Plymouth's shadow Member for Transport said: "This call for better rail connectivity has cross-party support. It is vital that we do all we can as this will benefit the wider economy of the city and the region."
The task force is co-ordinating a joint response from the South West, uniting behind a call for services that are more frequent, faster and better meet the needs of business under the new franchise.
Leading rail industry consultants Steer Davis Gleave were jointly commissioned by the Chamber and the Council to look into the economic case for better rail connectivity and found that for an additional operating cost of £10 million a year, the economy stands to gain £94 million.
As well as aiming for faster trains, a key demand is for better on-board facilities such as WIFI and continuous mobile coverage to enable the business community to work en-route.
David Parlby, chair of Plymouth Chamber of Commerce said: "Business needs to be able to do a day's business in Plymouth – or in London – and get back, travelling reliably, comfortably and affordably. They also need to be able to work on the train if they wish.
"For a relatively small investment in the infrastructure, timetable and accommodation, there are potentially great returns for the wider economy as a whole."
The task force has been in discussions with colleagues from neighbouring authorities to ensure the local rail services are also given full consideration when the franchise is drawn up.
Local rail services in the South West have seen unprecedented passenger growth of around four per cent over the last decade. The population is expected to rise by 30 per cent in the South West over the next 20 years with an aging population who are much more likely to use train services.
Tim Jones, chair of the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership said: "There are some hugely successful local routes into and out of Truro, Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter but many of the trains are already at capacity with no room for further passenger growth.
"It is critical that the franchise plans for growth of these services. They play an increasingly important role in linking local communities to employment, leisure and retail activities across the region."
Through the franchise consultation, the region will seek improvements to local rail services including reinstatement of rail services to Tavistock and a regular hourly local service between Penzance and Exeter throughout the day, seven days a week.
Torbay Council's Executive Lead for Transport, Councillor Robert Excell, said: "Torbay is working with colleagues and members across the South West in order to secure better train services in this new franchise for the region.
We are fully supportive of faster journey times from London and are pushing for four return trains from the capital each weekday. In addition, this new franchise has the potential to deliver the Devon Metro concept, providing improved half-hourly services between the Bay and Exeter.
It is essential the businesses and rail users across the region get involved in this franchise consultation, as it is our chance to influence what the majority of our services will look like in the future.
When we fought successfully for the new South Devon Link Road we had fantastic support from businesses. Now, let us succeed with our rail services, once again with their support."
Over the last few months the city's MPs have been lobbying fellow MPs whose constituencies fall into the FGW franchise area and have been raising the issue in the House of Commons.
A joint letter between leaders of Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Torbay and Plymouth councils seeking assurances that the franchise will take into account current use as well as projected population growth has also been sent to Ministers.
The task force has also already sent a letter to FGW calling for an earlier morning fast train to Plymouth by May 2012.
The task force includes MPs Alison Seabeck, Sheryll Murray, Gary Streeter, Oliver Colvile, Councillor Kevin Wigens, Plymouth City Council's Cabinet Member for Transport, Shadow Member for Transport Mark Coaker, Andrew Seedhouse representing Plymouth University, Tim Jones representing the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership, Doug Fletcher from the Plymouth Growth Board.
For more information visit the case for better rail services page.
9 February 2012