Rail services could be left 'in limbo,'says MP
PENINSULA rail services could be left in limbo for two or three years, says city MP Alison Seabeck.
She fears that the West Coast rail franchise fiasco could have a knock-on effect on services to Plymouth.
First Group is relinquishing its franchise for services to London, and four companies are bidding to take on a new 15-year contract.
But extended delays in renewing the Great Western franchise could even mean trains to the South West being taken back under Government control.
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Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin pulled the plug on the controversial West Coast main line deal as a result of "unacceptable mistakes" by his department.
He has now ordered an independent inquiry into the entire franchising process.
This will mean putting on ice bidding for the new Great Western contract which was due to start next year.
Ms Seabeck, the MP for Plymouth Moor View, said there would be financial implications for any company running services in the interim.
"Who would pay for that?" she said.
"We have no idea what the impact of this is going to be."
She said experts such as Travelwatch South West feared that services could be disrupted.
Cllr Mark Coker, the city's Cabinet member for transport, said he had called an urgent meeting of the Rail Task Force, set up under his Conservative predecessor Cllr Kevin Wigens.
The task force was instrumental in winning concessions for Plymouth in the new franchise agreement. These included more three-hour journeys to London, and a daily train arriving from the capital before 10am.
"Everything we asked for is in limbo," Mr Coker said.
"We are really concerned that the Government has gone back to square one.
"The situation is time-critical. We want to know what is happening next year."
Cllr Kevin Wigens, Plymouth's Conservative spokesman on transport, said: "I share the concerns raised by people including the MPs.
"From what I understand we are seeking urgent clarification of where this leaves us.
"We are concerned about the delays to a lot of hard-fought improvements won by the Plymouth rail task force," he said.
"The other danger is that while there is a void, other towns and cities on the route might try to amend the franchise specification.
"It's a very unsatisfactory situation."
Oliver Colvile, the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, is trying to set up a meeting of the MPs with the Transport Secretary.
He said that in the meantime he had spoken to transport minister Simon Burns.
"He is not of the view that it's going to take two years to resolve," Mr Colvile said.
"But MPs need to be seen to be fighting our case for city and the South West."
With the appointment of a new Transport Secretary Plymouth would need to reinforce its wish list – particularly for more three-trains to London, and an early train to allow people to arrive here from London before 10am.