MP for North Cornwall, Scott Mann, has welcomed a government report which outlines a new vision for Britain’s railways, with the Transport Secretary reiterating his support for the return of passenger services to Okehampton. This is great. While it is good to hear murmurings of support, some action is surely the next step, so it is hoped that Scott Mann will keep up the pressure.
The report, entitled: ‘Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail’ lays out a number of proposals to increase rail capacity and deliver better journeys for passengers, including the re-opening of old railway lines, more commuter routes and smart ticketing. The sweeping proposals are also aimed at creating joined-up teams running track and train to make the railway more reliable for passengers and ensure that it works as one to deliver for its customers.
Launching the report, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said:
“The last few years have seen massive growth on Britain’s railways. This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers.
“But now we need to build on that success by building a new model for the 2020s and beyond, one more able to deal with the huge rise in passenger numbers and the challenges of an increasingly congested network.
“Rail passengers deserve a more reliable, more efficient service – and I will deliver it by ending the one-size-fits-all approach of franchising and bringing closer together the best of the public and private sector.”
The vision also pledges to introduce digital rail – new technologies that have the potential to reduce crowding and improve train punctuality for passengers – across more of the country. It also reinforces the important role for freight on the rail network to support the British economy and environment.
The Department for Transport has also published a consultation document on the Great Western Rail Franchise, which asks whether it should be kept as a single franchise or divided into two or more franchises. The franchise is currently operated by Great Western Railway (GWR) – a subsidiary of First Group – which runs services between London Paddington, the South West and Wales. One potential outcome could see the franchise split into two, with services between London Paddington, Bath, Exeter and Penzance coming under a different franchise to services between Paddington, Swindon and Oxfordshire.
Rail Minister Paul Maynard said:
“We are investing in the biggest modernisation of the railways for over a century. Working with GWR, we are bringing the very latest in rail technology to some of the world’s oldest lines, putting passengers first so that they benefit from a transformational programme of upgrades as quickly as possible.
“The benefits of these improvements will be felt right across the franchise area. But as the franchise continues to grow into the 2020s, we want to ensure every line, station and passenger remain central to the train operator’s strategy. This consultation asks passengers how they want their railway to look into the 2020s and beyond and how it will best deliver for them.”
Welcoming the proposals, Scott Mann said:
“I’m very pleased to see the Government outlining its vision for the future of our railways and its proposals to improve the Great Western franchise.
“Cornwall and Devon are seeing tens of millions of pounds of investment, including new intercity trains which will increase seat numbers by 20 per cent and achieve faster journeys, a new refurbished sleeper service, overhauled signalling which will allow more trains between Plymouth and Penzance, and work by Network Rail to make the Dawlish line more resilient from the sea and cliffs.
“I am wholly supportive of the campaign to bring back passenger services to Okehampton, as this would open up North Devon and North Cornwall to more transport links for local people and visitors, and I was very pleased to hear the Transport Secretary reiterating his support for the project in the Commons.
“The consultation document on the region’s rail franchise is very important to making sure that it delivers better services into the future, and I’d like to encourage rail users and business owners in Cornwall to visit the DfT website and submit their feedback.”