Rail 'lifeline' must be priority: council chief
PLYMOUTH'S rail 'lifeline' should be a national priority, the Government is being told.
After rail services were disrupted by floods in the past week, council leader Tudor Evans is demanding action to keep links to the peninsula open, whatever the weather.
City MP Oliver Colvile has also raised the issue in the House of Commons this week.
And a transport expert has renewed calls for a new line to by-pass storm-hit Dawlish.
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Last week's floods cut the rail link between Exeter and Tiverton and passengers were ferried between stations by bus.
The rail misery continued this week when the line between Newton Abbot and Exeter was closed by 15 landslips.
Now Cllr Evans is co-ordinating a letter from South West leaders to the Transport Minister.
He said the Government was committing huge investment to improve transport in areas of the country that are already very well connected.
"Is it too much to ask for tracks that allow train services to get to a chosen destination without the use of a bus?
"The South West has suffered from severe travel disruption. Not only do we find services suspended, but the replacement bus services themselves were delayed by flooding on the M5."
Signatories to the letter include 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.
Cllr Evans said: "I understand we were dealing with extreme weather this time, but this isn't a new issue and flooding happens all too frequently.
"We know where flooding is likely and we know there is a Government plan to tackle such issues."
The Government's 2011 document "Climate Resilient Infrastructure" features on its front cover a photo of the line at Dawlish, where services are frequently disrupted by weather.
Cllr Evans said: "We are striving for economic growth in the region and have some excellent plans in place to create jobs and encourage businesses to the area including the South West Marine Energy Park.
"The Government recognises the economic value of fast, reliable transport links."
He is calling on the Government to give the South West some priority. "The DIY approach we are often forced to take just won't cut it in this situation. We need investment in our travel infrastructure to enable us to deliver growth.
"The South West can no longer be viewed as the sleepy tourist destination of the UK. We will be asking to meet the Secretary of State for Transport to seek the necessary infrastructure needed.
"Unlike his Transport Minister, who did not travel to Exeter on Thursday, we are prepared to take the long and torturous journey to Westminster to move this agenda forward.
"We'll be keeping up the pressure on Government so they understand the transport issues that threaten our ambitions for growth in the South West."
Mr Colvile, the Tory MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, raised the issue at transport questions in the Commons.
He called on Transport Minister Stephen Hammond to make an economic assessment of the impact of that on the Plymouth economy?
Mr Hammond said: "I recognise that it has been extremely disruptive, but it is too early to undertake an economic assessment.
"The Government's main priority at present is restoring services to all those affected by flooding."
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