'No strategy for rail in South West': city MP
By Plymouth Herald | Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 05:30
A LACK of reliable transport links between Plymouth and the rest of the country "worries the hell" out of people and businesses, ministers have been told.
The Government has been accused of having no "strategic direction" for rail in the region, which has been severely disrupted by the recent heavy rainfall.
With no air link, and when the motorway was closed due to accidents, the peninsula was "effectively cut off", the Commons heard.
The serious problem with reliability and resilience of the rail network came against a backdrop of unacceptable fare hikes, argued Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View Alison Seabeck.
Rail spending per head in the South West was just a third of that in the rest of the country, she said.
Ms Seabeck was also concerned that future work plans by Network Rail for the region's track failed to mention Cowley bridge, where the mainline was shut by flooding.
So-called 'connectivity' has long been seen as the biggest issue facing the region, and this was reinforced by the vulnerability of transport links shown over the last month.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the rising cost of transport, Ms Seabeck told MPs: "We know that the increases are hitting low and middle-income families hardest, and we in the South West simply cannot accept them, particularly as we lose out in identifiable rail expenditure, as the answer to my recent parliamentary question showed. We get just £40 a head, compared with £119 elsewhere."
Urging support of Plymouth City Council plans for a rail resilience taskforce, Ms Seabeck added: "We understand fare increases if we see improvements and investment, but the Government have no strategic direction for rail in the South West, and the likelihood of more heavy rain and more problems frankly worries the hell out of people and businesses in particular.
"We cannot escape the fact that we have a serious problem that will not be resolved by super peak tickets and more money going to rail company shareholders." Transport difficulties were also raised by Tory MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport Oliver Colvile.
He asked the Minister: "Does he recognise that in the South West we have a very big problem with flooding? We need to have the A303 dualled and the A38 sorted out.
"We need more trains getting into Plymouth early, and we need to ensure that we have more three-hour train journeys."
Responding, Transport Minister Norman Baker said he had witnessed the problems on the rail line during a recent visit.
"I am taking that specific matter up with Network Rail," he said.