• All Aboard

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    14 April 2017

    A key issue for the South West is transport. The main road arteries into the Peninsular are the A303/30 and the M5. The government is investing in dualling the A303 so that journey’s along this route are speeded up. Rail sees vital services to both Paddington and Waterloo with the key route into Devon and Cornwall being via Dawlish which in 2014 saw a collapse of the sea defences and the line out of action for 2 months at an estimated cost to the local economy of £1.2 billion. The importance of resilient transport links, like fast internet connectivity, is obvious – we need it to ensure that trade and business thrive, that the local economy is strong, jobs created and wages and spending power enhanced. Nationally the government is investing in rail at record levels. Between 2014 and 2019 around £40 billion (in addition to the investment in HS2) will be provided meaning more trains, more seats and better stations. Compared to 1996-97, there are 2,500 more carriages today, a 25 per cent rise. Better services are not all about hardware investment but about innovation too – in the 2016 Autumn Statement we committed to £450 million to trial innovative new digital rail signaling technology, which should help further increase capacity and reliability. Locally, in time, we will benefit from more frequent and faster services but I am particularly focused on one important additional service that will provide huge benefits to many thousands of my constituents and also represent a huge step in the direction of greater rail resilience for the peninsular. We need to reinstate the Okehampton to Exeter rail link as a regular year round service. The track is already in place and during the summer months the Sunday rover service has already demonstrated strong demand with 7,500 journeys being made between mid-May and mid-September 2016. The Tarka line from Barnstaple to Exeter has shown how explosive local demand can be when services are in place – over the last decade the number of passengers carried on the line has increased by 100% to over a million journeys and around a quarter of the track that it uses is shared with the Okehampton to Exeter route. In the last parliament I secured a visit by both the Secretary of State for Transport to walk the track with me around Okehampton and to listen to local views. I have lobbied the current and the previous Chancellor and more recently met with the current Sec of State for Transport to discuss an upscaling of the service on the line – his department are now actively engaged with this possibibility. The first train direct from Okehampton to Paddington in 50 years ran just a few weeks ago and I travelled on the train arranging for the new rail minister to meet with us at Paddington to discuss possible ways forward. Additional rail takes time but I am confident that we are moving in the right direction. I will continue to fight hard for better transport infrastructure and look forward to the prospect of better local rail services.