South West MPs 'united' in urging government to fund key rail studies

Scott Mann and fellow South West MPs are urging the government to provide around £300,000 to fund two key studies being conducted by the Peninsula Rail Task Force to modernise rail routes into Devon and Cornwall.

The Task Force, made up of councils in Devon and Cornwall, will be producing a report in June this year outlining what needs to be done to modernise railways in the South West, including electrification, line speed improvements, making Dawlish more resilient, and the potential for extra lines.

It recently transpired, however, that there is a £300,000 black hole, which left unfunded, would mean studies on electrification and line speed improvements could not be conducted. The two studies were added to the report after a request from the Department for Transport.

With time running out, MPs are now urging the government to fund the two studies which are integral to the Task Force's report.

In a statement, Andrew Leadbetter, Task Force Chairman, said:

“When we were invited by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to put forward our plans for the South West rail network, we were pleased that our issues of poor connectivity were finally being recognised.

“We have been determined to put forward a sound business case. We know we’re up against a lot of competition and we know we have to show real economic returns. The West Midlands has recently had £5m of funds to develop its transport strategy whereas to date, all our work has been funded through the local authorities. There is a clear inequality here.

“The two studies are vital to our report, which is due this summer. There is a very small window of opportunity to get them done in time and to date Network Rail has no funding for them. So, we are asking the Secretary of State to intervene and ensure his departments are able to deliver, as we are doing. It’s surely reasonable to expect that we have the tools we need to do what he has asked of us?“

After speaking with the Task Force in a meeting in Parliament, South West MPs said they would work to secure the funding.

Scott said:

“South West MPs are united in holding the government to account on this. We hear of all these regions receiving billions of pounds of investment in railway infrastructure, and now it’s the South West’s turn. The Task Force is aiming to deliver a detailed, structured and cohesive report of how we can make our railways fit for the 21st century, and it could have great ramifications for Devon and Cornwall if the report was to suffer a blow at this late hurdle. 

“Although electrification and line speed improvements are not the only areas of focus in the report, they are an essential ingredient to delivering a whole package of improvements, the absence of which could weaken the report’s findings and potentially stunt economic growth for the South West.”

In PMQs on Wednesday 27th January, Kevin Foster, Conservative MP for Torbay, urged the Prime Minister to help the South West.

David Cameron said the scenes at Dawlish in 2014 cannot be repeated and that the government would help.