Plymouth and the South West to miss out on rail millions
A RAIL investment programme claiming to be the largest since the Victorian age has no major investment allocated for the South West's main line.
Network Rail has unveiled plans to spend £37.5billion to run and expand rail services, just weeks after floodwaters brought a catastrophic failure of the Westcountry main line.
Of the £5billion to be invested in the Western region, the majority will go to Bristol, Oxford and Newbury.
Plymouth council leader Tudor Evans yesterday renewed calls for extra investment in the region's infrastructure as a matter of urgency.
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He said: "This announcement, together with the Government's mid-term review, is incredibly hard to take and we have been looking at the detail with a growing sense of anger and frustration.
"The South West main line barely gets a look in."
And Gary Streeter, the MP for South West Devon, warned: "There will be a battle over this."
Some work being done as part of the £35billion is expected to have an impact on travel in the South West.
This includes signal improvements between Newton Abbot and Penzance and improvements to remove bottlenecks around Reading station by 2015.
But the programme mentions no significant investment to the main line running through the Westcountry.
"Millions of pounds of investment are being promised across the country yet here in the South West, if it rains there are no trains," Cllr Evans said.
A joint letter was sent before Christmas to the Secretary of State for Transport from the South West peninsula, including Cornwall, Devon and Somerset council leaders, the Mayor of Torbay and the chairs of the Cornwall and Heart of the South West local economic partnerships.
And Mr Streeter met the Secretary of State this week.
The MP said: "Possibly this news has come too soon after the recent flooding cut the line east of Exeter."
It was reported yesterday that ministers have ordered railway officials to repair the Westcountry's vulnerable network.
Top of the list is Cowley Bridge near Exeter, which was flooded three times in November and December, leaving the region cut off.
But Mr Streeter said: "What we now need is a scheme to protect the line from flooding, irrespective of what it costs.
"There will be a battle over this."
Cllr Kevin Wigens, the Conservative group spokesman for transport on Plymouth City Council, said he was extremely disappointed at the news.
"We have always been seen as a poor relation in terms of investment.
"I would have thought the rail link to the Westcountry would have been a priority."
Network Rail's £37.5billion plan to run and expand the railways from 2014-19 will provide 170,000 extra commuter seats at peak times by 2019.
The plans have to be agreed and approved by the Office of Rail Regulation.
They will see an extra 225million passengers a year and 355,000 more trains.
But passengers face the prospect of six years of above-inflation fare rises to pay for the investment, and Network Rail admits that one in ten trains will still be late.