Political leaders welcome review into alternative train routes after storm damage to Dawlish track leaves Cornwall “cut off”
Political leaders in Cornwall have demanded immediate state aid after the rail link into the South West was severed, potentially isolating the Duchy for six months.
Council chiefs and MPs said it is now time to take action to improve resilience after powerful waves left tracks at Dawlish “hanging by a thread” and homes teetering on the brink of disaster.
Meanwhile business leaders in Cornwall have warned being disconnected from the rest of the country could cost the local economy millions of pounds.
Today Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin ordered a “rigorous review” to be carried out to explore alternative routes to the damaged line.
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Possible options include re-introducing train services from Oakhampton and Tavistock, which last ran in the late 1960s.
Dan Rogerson, North Cornwall MP, welcomed the announcement.
"The priority for the Department for Transport is, rightly, to repair the damage at Dawlish to re-open and protect the existing main line from Penzance to London Paddington,” he said.
"However, I welcome the Government's decision to look at all the possible options for improving and protecting railway services to and from Cornwall.
He said reopening the line would also benefit towns in North Cornwall.
“Restoring services between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock would help with capacity, help to bring services closer to Launceston and Bude, and help to keep Cornwall connected if there were problems with the line at Dawlish,” he said.
Up to 80m of the track in Dawlish was damaged after high winds, rain and high tides combined to deliver yet another night of misery, tearing down more than 70 trees and leaving tens of thousands without power in the South West.
During the storms, the emergency services were stretched to the limit, with police reporting the second busiest night in their history with more than 1,400 calls received in just 24 hours.
Today St Ives MP Andrew George said a fraction of the billions of pounds earmarked for the high-speed rail project HS2 must now be channelled into work to prevent the region being “cut off”.
He said: “If we are to put proper investment into a resilient service down to Penzance we need to make sure that there is a comparable funding in terms of the kind of money which is being spent on HS2 and other services.”
Cornwall Council leader John Pollard demanded immediate action to repair the “enormous” storm damage.
While John Hart, the leader of Devon County Council leader, who also heads the South West councils, said the region could be “left to pick up a massive bill”.
“For weeks now, travellers have had to go from Exeter to Taunton by bus,” he said. “Now the rest of the peninsula is also cut off and we don’t know when the line will be restored. The time has come for the Government to take more action to make sure that Devon and Cornwall don’t get cut off for weeks every winter.”
The Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged an extra £100 million to tackle the aftermath of the devastating floods, promising to look at rail repairs “very urgently”.
Trains last ran on the line between Exeter and Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock in 1968.
Regular services between Okehampton and Exeter continued until 1972, with trains only running now on Sundays in summer.