TAKE ACTION NOW: We demand a better rail link for Cornwall
AS Cornwall faces at least six weeks cut off from the national rail network, our Cornish newspapers are joining forces to demand the Government finally funds a service fit for the 21st Century.
A promise was made in Westminster yesterday to review alternative routes to the current line through Dawlish, which has been washed away in this week's storms.
However, we at the West Briton, The Cornishman and Cornish Guardian, along with our sister titles the Western Morning News and Plymouth Herald, want the polititians to go one step further, and to commit to creating a second line into the Duchy to provide resilience in extreme weather.
The project would cost a fraction of the planned spend on the HS2 project - the high speed link between London and the north - and is vital for the economy of the whole west country.
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There are many options that could be considered for re-routing, including reviving a 50-mile stretch from Exeter to Newton Abbot, which closed in 1958.
A heftier price-tag would come with bringing back a link from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton on the edge of Dartmoor, but this would mean no rail services to Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torbay, Totnes or Ivybridge if the coastal line closed.
At Transport Questions in the House of Commons this morning, the Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin said he wanted the service restored “as quickly as possible”, but also pledged a “more rigorous review of some of the other alternatives that may be available”.
In 2006, Labour ministers ruled out the idea of re-routing, arguing Network Rail believed seafront defences in Dawlish were unlikely to fail “in the foreseeable future”.
Mr McLoughlin’s statement in the Commons followed an angry meeting with MPs in the region from all parties.
He said: “The immediate priority is to assess the damage and develop a plan for getting the line back into service as soon as possible.
“But I am acutely conscious of the need to develop a long-term solution to the resilience of the rail network in the South West. And I have asked for a report to me on the options for addressing this problem.”
MPs across Devon and Cornwall are calling for a meaningful response as the line at Dawlish hangs by a thread.
Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, said: “When billions are being spent on glitzy schemes like HS2 and Crossrail, it is not too much to ask that the Government puts resources into ensuring the long-term resilience of the line to Penzance, including the possibility of re-routing the line or providing a back up diversionary route.”
Mr McLoughlin will be hauled before MPs on the Transport Select Committee on February 25, revealed Adrian Sanders, Lib Dem MP for Torbay, who serves on the cross-party committee.
Answering questions over flooding in the Commons, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said there were “no restrictions” on help to fix the railway line and the Armed Forces were there “should local authorities require them”.
Shadow Transport Secretary Mary Creagh said: “Freak weather is rapidly becoming the new normal in our country.
“But every week that this line is closed costs the regional economy tens of millions of pounds.”