Rail (UK)

West Coun­try route needs proper in­vest­ment

- Matthew Lovett, Hel­ston Business · Network Rail Route 18 · Stonehenge · Waterloo

While it was heart­en­ing to read about Net­work Rail’s plans for “re­mov­ing the bar­ri­ers from the gate­way to the West Coun­try” ( Anal­y­sis, RAIL 913), am I alone in feel­ing that the plans lack am­bi­tion, seek­ing only to deal with cur­rent con­straints and ig­nor­ing the strate­gic po­ten­tial for this woe­fully un­der­val­ued as­set?

In ef­fect, what Net­work Rail is propos­ing is an ex­tra pass­ing loop at Cran­brook and ex­ten­sions to ex­ist­ing loops - a lot of work sites and con­se­quent dis­rup­tion with some small over­all im­prove­ments to the ex­ist­ing ser­vices.

Those cur­rently us­ing the ser­vice will gri­mace a lit­tle less, while those still us­ing the car will have no in­cen­tive to go by train in­stead. For that you need a real step change in ser­vice, which this is not.

The Govern­ment is cur­rently spend­ing £1.25 bil­lion on the Stone­henge by-pass, at a time when long-dis­tance car travel is likely to de­cline with the switch to elec­tric over the next 15 years.

That’s about £83 mil­lion a year to re­duce ten-min­utes de­lay on the A303, at a time when we should be dis­cour­ag­ing car use. What a dif­fer­ence a sim­i­lar amount would make if spent on up­grad­ing the par­al­lel rail line?

Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion to Ex­eter, new rolling stock, dou­ble track through­out, and some at­ten­tion to the ca­pac­ity con­straints at Water­loo, and you would have a step-change in ser­vices through the West Coun­try.

This could be as trans­for­ma­tional in the West as HS2 will be for the North - and for a lot less. Let’s have some strate­gic vi­sion in plan­ning and stop tin­ker­ing at the edges.

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