Whistle-stop tour sees Transport Minister take stock of rail services
AS RAIL services come up for grabs in Cornwall, Transport Minister Theresa Villiers took part in a fact-finding whistle-stop tour of Truro's train station to see how services were delivered in the county.
The Conservative MP saw the continuing £500,000 renovation at the city's station – due to end next month – before boarding the Maritime Line to Falmouth, where she met Friends of Penmere Station.
She also visited St Ives and the proposed rail and road "transport hub" at nearby St Erth and Looe station.
The visit comes as the Department for Transport (DfT) considers bids for the Great Western rail franchise, which includes the main Penzance-Paddington line and a large number of branch lines.
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A new 15-year version of the franchise was put out to tender by the DfT last month, with the successful bidder due to be announced later this year.
It means four rail companies: First Group, National Express, German-owned Arriva Trains and Stagecoach, are locked in a highly competitive bidding process.
The winner will be expected to deliver the same level of service, including sleeper trains from Penzance to Paddington, while cutting costs.
Ms Villiers said she was determined to see the South West get "good rail services".
She added: "It depends on what is affordable. Public finances are in a difficult situation. It means services must be as efficient as possible to make budgets go further."
The bidders have also been taking part in crucial talks with Cornwall Council and other agencies on how to devolve rail services to local authorities.
Lobbying the Conservative MP during her tour was Cornwall Council's assistant head of transportation, Tim Wood.
"It's an opportunity to show what Cornwall has to offer and to promote a 30-minute rail service. We need more rolling stock. There is untapped capacity on the trains. If we can get this included we can use it when the time comes and there will be no liability on us.
"We have invested £40 million in the county's rail system in the past 10 to 15 years and there is not a lot of government money in the future so we have to look at other sources."
Rail services in Cornwall have been booming with a 20 per cent increase in passengers on the Falmouth to Truro line since a new passing loop was installed at Penryn.