First Great Western makes Westcountry 'effectively an island'
A top tourism expert has launched a stinging attack on First Great Western, saying the poor service it provided had effectively turned the Westcountry into an island.
TV and newspaper pundit Simon Calder told a Plymouth conference that the city was badly let down by its lack of connectivity.
He said it was hemmed in by the sea on three sides and on the fourth by First Great Western, whose timetable for the Westcountry he slated, along with its customer service.
Mr Calder, senior travel editor of The Independent, urged politicians and business people to campaign against HS2, the proposed new rail link to the Midlands and the North of England. "HS2 is a complete waste of time for anyone who wants to get to the South West," he said.
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"I'm surprised we haven't seen a lobby in the South West about that investment being focused on what is already a not badly connected part of the country [the Midlands].
"It's so much easier, quicker and cheaper to get a train from London to Paris than from London to Plymouth."
He said the rail franchise rules for the mainline service were "pretty shameful".
Mr Calder said the reason Plymouth City Airport had ceased to exist was because of poor connectivity to London.
"There was not a link to Heathrow and therefore it did not sustain the traffic," he said.
A spokesman for First Great Western hit back at the allegations, saying it was providing a better service than ever.
"The failure of the airline industry to make a success of the Plymouth to London route while train passenger numbers continue to rise would suggest train travel is considerably more attractive to people than Simon suggests.
"First Great Western is currently providing the best ever level of service between Plymouth and London, and we are keen to work with the Department for Transport and local community to look at how we can improve the service even further.
"There will naturally be some obstacles that will need to be overcome, but we are not one of them."
The spokesman rejected the criticism of poor customer service, saying satisfaction levels had increased from 72 per cent in spring 2007 to 80 per cent at present.
He added: "More trains run on time, there are fewer delays, and cancellations have reduced by almost three quarters."
Mr Calder was speaking at a conference, sponsored by City College Plymouth, which was called to discuss "Are We Ready for 2020?", as the city looks ahead to the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower leaving Plymouth for America.
James Berresford, chief executive of Visit England, said 2020 was "a God-given opportunity" for the city.
Adrian Vinken, chairman of Plymouth Culture Board and chief executive of the Theatre Royal Plymouth, said there was a "mind-blowing chasm" between Plymouth's strengths and the way it had until recently presented itself.