West Country route needs proper investment
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.