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Call for a major rethink on inland rail links in Westcountry

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 23, 2013

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A new inland mainline is one of the radical proposals being called for as part of industry demands for a "major rethink" of the Westcountry's fragile rail network.

Flooding in November and December effectively cut off the region for rail passengers, leaving tracks submerged outside Exeter and the coastal branch closed then severely delayed following a massive landslide at Teignmouth.

The Institution of Civil Engineers in the South West (ICE) is seeking an urgent review in the summer, amid concerns that the existing infrastructure is struggling.

It also wants consideration of a plan to roll out the new electrification project south of Bristol, via a new feasibility study.

Network Rail says it is working to strengthen the resilience of the region's lines, but has ruled out any major projects in the next five years, estimating that funding for a new line avoiding the coast would stretch into the hundreds of millions of pounds.

Trish Johnson, regional director of ICE South West, said the region was disproportionately affected by snow, freezing conditions and flooding.

She added: "There are only two routes into the far South West by road, Flybe is cutting jobs at Exeter airport, and Plymouth airport has been closed, therefore keeping rail networks open is vital.

"The stark reality is that, in times of severe weather conditions, areas of the South West are effectively cut off."

The ICE says that even in good weather, rail journey times across the South West are a source of constant frustration to travellers.

It welcomes plans to create a direct rail link from Reading to Heathrow and expects improvements to Reading station will have a positive impact on journeys to London.

But it argues that plans to bring the new High Speed Two (HS2) route to Bristol are "less promising" for the southern part of the greater South West region.

South West member of ICE Council Richard Fish said he wanted "serious action and investment" to address the very real rail issues".

"Signalling improvements and full dual-line capacity on the Exeter to Waterloo line would create a real main-line alternative to London," he added.

John Baker, Wales and West spokesman for Network Rail, said the problems "west of Bristol" were under discussion with MPs and stakeholders as part of plans to "strengthen resilience", but said: "We have no plans to electrify lines west of Bristol in the next five years.

"Moving the line inland is a long-term project, costing hundreds of millions of pounds, needing political will and years to complete a feasibility study."

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  • AdrianGull  |  March 05 2013, 12:46PM

    A very good comment by "skareggae72" I've written (contructively criticised /moaned) about this before! In addtion to the line via Heathfield, did we not also have a line from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton??!! Give or take 35% to 40% of that still has track, being Yeoford to Meldon and then from Bere Alston down in to Plymouth, noted that there were issues recently at Cowley Bridge however which would have affected this route too. I also notice the investment / feasability blah blah about a full dual line capability from Exeter to Waterloo, errr it used to be, so how much feasability studying do you need to do, obviously it's the funding that is the problem.

  • skareggae72  |  February 23 2013, 10:56AM

    There is already an inland route of the troublesome Teignmouth/Dawlish section,which leaves Newton Abbot just East of the station/40% of this line is still in use to Heathfield oil terminal,although the remainder of the line to Exeter has been covered by a road,but to bring this back would surely not be too difficult. As for the electrification of the Teignmouth/Dawlish sea wall section,i can only see this as being troublesome due to limited tunnel height,rusting high power lines due to salt spray,and the danger of waves hitting the overhead high power cables with a busy footpath only feet away.

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