The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, came this afternoon to a meeting of the All Party SW Rail Group, which I chair. He said he recognised the particular transport challenges we face in the Westcountry.
MPs and Peers from across Devon and Cornwall raised a range of issues including the need to address the vulnerability of the line at Dawlish, speeds, capacity and reliability throughout the region, the importance of branch lines and of upgrading the Waterloo to Exeter line. We also told him electrification should not end at Bristol but should be extended into our part of the region. Other rail issues raised included overcrowding and the need for better rolling stock.
There was also discussion of the importance of improving the A303. On this, the Secretary of State said he was “cautiously optimistic” progress would be able to be made.
On Dawlish, he acknowledged, in response to a question from me, that the cost benefit analysis produced on the alternatives needed to be changed because they don’t fully take into account the wider economic benefits of providing an additional line. This was particularly important because the cost benefit produced for the current consultation judges all the additional route options as “unaffordable”. A number of MPs and Peers raised this and I cited the example in Scotland where the old line between Edinburgh and Galashiels in the Borders is being reopened where the cost benefit is less than an additional line avoiding Dawlish would produce. Mr McLoughlin promised to get back to me on this point.
He also held out the prospect that further electrification would be considered in the next long term planning period (known as CP6). In my view, there is no reason why electrification shouldn’t be extended at least as far as Exeter.
The Minister stressed the benefits of the region “speaking with one voice” on its transport priorities, which is one of the reasons I initiated this group in the first place.
MPs and Peers attending were:
Ben Bradshaw MP
Andrew George MP
Gary Streeter MP
Anne-Marie Morris MP
Hugo Swire MP
Richard Gibson, CrossCountry
Dilip Sinha, Office of Rail Regulation
James Sloan, Political Consultant, DODS
Alison Seabeck MP
Hazel Phillips, Passenger Focus
Oliver Colvile MP
Sir Nick Harvey MP
Sheryll Murray MP