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Anger at 30 per cent cut to direct rail link

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 17, 2012

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announce the rail investment yesterday

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The Government is considering slashing direct rail services between Cornwall and London by one-third, it emerged last night.

There is anger ministers are looking to cut London Paddington to Penzance trains from nine to six each day under the new Great Western franchise agreement.

Details were revealed as it was confirmed the far South West will not get a penny from £9.4 billion lavished on the railways, announced by the Government yesterday.

Fears were heightened after Transport Secretary Justine Greening did not rule out cuts to the Penzance service when questioned in the Commons.

Conservative leader of Cornwall Council, Alec Robertson, said: "This would be a serious setback for Cornwall's economy. Reducing the number of inter-city services will mean a third-class rail system in Cornwall and we need to fight to ensure that this does not happen."

Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives Andrew George has secured an emergency meeting with Transport Minister Theresa Villiers today.

He said: "With seriously overcrowded trains, over-inflation ticket increases and other service cuts, the Government should be enhancing the Penzance to Paddington service rather than cutting it."

The Government will shortly invite four short-listed firms to bid to run trains on the Great Western line based on a specification drawn up by the Department for Transport (DfT). The new operator will take charge of services throughout the south of England and Wales, for 15 years, from April.

But officials at Cornwall Council have been told by DfT civil servants they can expect to lose three daily inter-city services to the capital.

It could also mean a loss of services in Devon if the links are axed entirely and not just halted at Exeter or Plymouth, for example.

During months of talks, the local authority asked for a 30-minute service between Penzance and Exeter to be included in the franchise specification. At present, the service has a gap of up to one-and-half hours.

The council was willing to sacrifice direct links to the capital in return for the regular half-hourly service to the east of Devon. The move would have increased the number of trains stopping at stations en route and also allow London commuters to change at Exeter and Plymouth more frequently.

DfT officials have rejected the swap. But they do want to take advantage of scaling back the inter-city services to Cornwall to make the franchise more financially attractive.

Services in the rural Westcountry are vulnerable compared to more profitable Great Western commuter trains in the Home Counties. The deal works by firms paying the Government to run the franchise and pocketing fares in return.

Cornwall's hopes now rest on an eleventh hour U-turn from the minister.

In the Commons chamber yesterday, Mr George questioned Ms Greening about whether investment elsewhere in the country was "built on the back of cuts to the service to Penzance". The minister responded: "No final decisions have been made."

Many are particularly angry as Ms Villiers told MPs in the Commons in December that whoever took over the franchise would be expected to provide at least what train firm First Great Western does at the moment. "Our starting point in setting the specification for the franchise will be the current level of service," the minister said.

Details of a possible reduced Cornish service came after the Government announced a £9.4 billion package of rail projects.

Amid claims by David Cameron that it represented the "biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era", plans include the electrification of the Midland Main Line.

On the Great Western line, electric rail will be taken beyond Cardiff to Swansea, and the Welsh Valley lines will also be electrified.

But the far South West will get nothing and will hope to be handed down second-hand trains to replace ageing diesels the region relies on.

A new £500 million rail link between the Great Western line at Slough, Berkshire, and Heathrow – confirmed yesterday – will reduce journey times between the region and the airport. But critics say this is scant consolation.

Labour MP for Exeter Ben Bradshaw said: "The Government seems to think the Westcountry ends at Bristol.

"We desperately need electrification of the main line down to Exeter and the further South West if we're not to miss out on the benefits of modernising our railways will bring."

Lib Dem peer and Cornwall councillor Lord Robin Teverson, who first raised the alarm on proposed rail cuts, described yesterday's rail investment announcement as an "insult to Cornwall".

He said: "Cornwall has invested more in its own rail network than any other local authority. Our reward? A reduction in the quality of services under the next franchise.

"South Wales now has its electrification plans all the way to Swansea. We only get as far as Reading – some 200 miles short of the Tamar."

Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, set up by the Government to create jobs in the region, said: "A reduced rail service will be seen as a body blow to growth for a region that has the lowest income per head in England."

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  • TheodoreV  |  July 18 2012, 11:08PM

    Eddie, you are a poor replacement for the Cuckoo.

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  • Regennotdegen  |  July 18 2012, 11:03PM

    To tie my previous comment into this discussion I'll just add that one of the fears regarding the loss of the New Terminal/harbour improvements in PZ was the possible repercussions on the rail link which now seem to be proved correct. Less visitors to the Scillies from up country, less trains required to carry them to PZ.

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  • Regennotdegen  |  July 18 2012, 10:55PM

    Eddie_PZ. If you can't see how any amount of investment in Penzance at a time of deep recession would have benefited the local economy then you really need to open your eyes and take a walk down Market Jew Sreet and look into all the empty shops. Or take a drive along Alexandra Road and see all the vacancies signs in the B&Bs. The construction phase for the new terminal (which should have begun last Year) would have brought a huge influx of workers into Penzance and created a whole load of work for local suppliers, tradesmen and jobs for young people, this would have created more money for people to spend in the town in the shops and stores, people needing places to stay etc etc. This may have been short term but it would have been better than what we have been left with now investment wise which is sweet F.A. The long term benefits would have been the improvement to the facilities for travelers to the Scillies which would increase visitor numbers to Penzance too as many of those travelling to the Scillies spend time (and Money) in Penzance. As a direct result of the loss of the Harbour improvements the Gas works which was going to be a Hotel (good for PZ creating jobs, encouraging those who currently use the one at Hayle to stay here) is going to be retirement flats (not so good for PZ as it's in such a gateway position and sends out the wrong message about the town) or will remain undeveloped for the foreseeable future. As the improvements to the Harbour were perhaps the single largest investment in PZ for Centuries they should have been the starting point for any other regeneration projects, many of these are now in limbo or permanently stalled. Most of this investment was coming from the E.U. not from local ratepayers so was in effect us getting our own money back from Europe (which would have made a change!) Andrew George, John Maggs and the idiots in the Town Council have no idea of the damage they have caused to the local economy. Penzance is a fabulous place but if it doesn't look to the future it will not prosper. Is that a simple enough answer for you Eddie ?

  • XercesFobe  |  July 18 2012, 10:49PM

    Cameron wooing his mates in First - Useless politicians of all colours - wake up the railways are getting busier by the day - just look at the Cornish branch lines. Remember when First took over from Wessex Trains -just over 120 coaches handed back to save money- First are bad bus company which has morphed into an even worse Bus and Railway company.

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  • TheodoreV  |  July 18 2012, 2:22PM

    Only one thing worse than the present system of running our railways and that's Cornwall (nee Serco) Council running it. They'd probably have all the passengers standing in different coloured bags on the station platform at least 24 hours before the train didn't arrive?

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  • esotericage3  |  July 18 2012, 2:00PM

    How would you like your Unitary Authority of Cornwall Council to run the rail services for Cornwall in the future?. The way things are going, Cornwall Council probably will. Devolving power away from Westminster to a federal body like Cornwall Council in the future tells you exactly where this is all going. This very online paper reported on the possibility that Cornwall Council is intrested in running the rail network for Cornwall. http://tinyurl.com/cav4tud

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  • trelawneyone  |  July 18 2012, 11:10AM

    i as a cornishman will not vote for mk. as i see it all they seem to be saying is don,t do this don,t do that or we must not have this the list goes on. stay still and you stagnate which in real terms is what has happened here.ever dependent on everything we need ie electricity and most other vital services from across the tamar with this brings conditions and decisions made in london who have no love for us here in cornwall. think more positve mk if you ever want to make a mark on the cornish economy and well being. you certainly do not do so at the moment. kernow bys vykken.

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  • poldice  |  July 18 2012, 9:25AM

    What on earth has UKIP got to do with this, we have an incumbent franchisee that has not done a particularly good job of running OUR railway, can any one explain why there are 57 different fares to Paddington and despite a high proportion of trains being standing room only there is a constant bleat about losses? Cornwall should have the franchise, that is where M K could really prove their worth the Cornish are crying out for strong ethical leadership, there is no question that M K are highly ethical but currently they exhibit about as much strength as a used teabag and thats wetter than the Lib Dims!

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  • Eddie_PZ  |  July 18 2012, 7:43AM

    Perhaps 'Regennotdegen' would be good enough to advise us what form this 'Millions of Pounds of inward investment' would have taken? We constantly hear about the investment lost as a a result of the ratepayer not forking out for a new ship and other port 'improvements' but never exactly what this investment would have been or why it would have followed - tell us now.

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  • EndUKRule  |  July 17 2012, 11:03PM

    UKIP corruption here! Read all about it! http://tinyurl.com/75vs7a9 and here http://tinyurl.com/7s8gf7g MK the only way!

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