Scott presses Government to increase SW transport funding and to build Okehampton rail line

Scott Mann has written to Government Ministers urging them to increase transport funding for the South West and to build a new railway line in Devon to bolster the regions infrastructure.

Writing to both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, Scott Mann pointed out that the South West has the second lowest level of transport funding of £219 per capita, whereas London sees a spend of £1,869 per capita.

Scott said that this “disparity” has been present for “too long” and urged them both to address the issue.

In asking the two Cabinet Ministers to increase the funding, Scott Mann highlighted the need for a ‘Northern Line’ between Plymouth and Exeter via Okehampton, saying it was the “logical solution” to make Devon and Cornwall’s railway infrastructure more resilient.

Writing to Chris Grayling, who recently visited Dawlish to discuss plans to make the sea wall more resilient, Scott Mann said:

“…although we must work in the short term to make Dawlish more resilient for decades to come, we do need to look at how we can make our railway network more resilient as well. This needs to be done through an increase in central government transport funding and the will to build more infrastructure. Alongside improvements to signalling and the roll out of electrification which will be outlined in the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s (PRTF) 20-Year-Plan, I would like to stress the need for an additional rail line in North Devon.

“A branch line is currently in place between Exeter and Meldon near Okehampton, but this used to continue to Bere Alston where it met the Gunnislake line.

“As you and your department spend the coming months analysing the PRTF’s report, I urge you to consider reintroducing a rail line between Meldon and Bere Alston to create a complete through line.”

In recent weeks Scott has attended meetings in Bude and Launceston to meet with local residents who want to see a line reinstated to Okehampton.

Listing the merits of a ‘Northern Line’ to Philip Hammond and Chris Grayling, Scott said it would open up more communities in Devon and Cornwall to transport links and tourism; it would be more attractive to rail operators to implement dedicated daily services; and that it would make Devon and Cornwall’s rail network more resilient by acting as an additional line should the mainline at Dawlish ever be closed for maintenance work or because of storm damage.

The Government has also said it is committed to making the mainline via Dawlish more resilient after the sea wall collapsed in 2014. During a visit to Dawlish in October, the Transport Secretary said that “doing nothing was not an option”.

Stressing the point on resilience, Scott Mann said:

“Even with Dawlish being made more resilient, it can’t escape the possibility of storms damaging it again. Waves crashing over the sea wall affect electronics in trains and can damage the infrastructure.

“On top of this, like all rail lines, extensive maintenance will be required from time to time. Most areas of Britain are fortunate enough to have multiple rail lines which allow services to bypass extensive works. Devon and Cornwall cannot do this.

“The reinstatement of a ‘Northern Line’ seems the logical solution to address these issues. Although such a line may not be faster, it will provide that vital transport security for the South West economy. If the mainline at Dawlish is closed, services could continue via Okehampton.”

The Peninsula Rail Task Force (PRTF) will soon be publishing its 20-Year-Plan Report which will outline what needs to be done in the short, medium and long term to make the South West’s rail network faster, more efficient and more resilient. The PRTF has previously listed the ‘Northern Line’ as an option and Scott is hoping that this will lay down a timeline for when it can be built.