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Duchy's direct train services to capital 'to be maintained'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 01, 2013

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Duchy's direct train services to capital 'to be maintained'

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The Government has offered short-term assurances that direct trains between London and Cornwall will be protected from the axe amid the shambles of rail franchising.

It emerged last summer ministers were considering cutting nine daily trains between Penzance and Paddington to six under the new Great Western rail contract.

But following the flawed awarding of the West Coast Main Line franchise, the new franchise to run trains in the South West was put on hold for more than two years.

And yesterday, Rail Minister Simon Burns told MPs the Government "will maintain today's number of daily through services from London to Cornwall".

MPs and business leaders feared slashing one-third of direct inter-city rail services between the far South West and the capital would hurt industry and tourism in particular.

The minister added that Cornwall Council will no longer have to underwrite the fast-growing Truro to Falmouth line, with the cost of running services on the line now falling to Whitehall.

Meanwhile, Torbay MP Adrian Sanders called for the two direct daily inter-city rail links to the English Riviera to be kept.

Existing train operator First Great Western (FGW) has had its contract to run the franchise extended from April until October. Ministers are in negotiations with the firm to accept a new two-year contract from then.

The talks are embarrassing for ministers as FGW had exercised a break-clause to quit the deal three years early, saving a reported £800 million in payments.

At Transport Questions in the Commons yesterday, Cornwall MP George Eustice told ministers there was "much concern" in Cornwall about the potential cuts.

The Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth added: "Can he assure us that those services will at the very least be protected at the current levels for the next couple of years?"

Mr Burns replied: "During the period of the extension we will maintain today's number of daily through services from London to Cornwall.

"The Truro to Falmouth service will remain at today's levels and will no longer have to be funded by Cornwall County Council, but through the high-level output specification intervention."

A Cornwall Council spokesman said slashing the timetable would be a "retrograde step" given the growth in passenger numbers.

She added the authority subsidises the Truro-Falmouth line to the tune of £160,000 a year, so central government picking up the tab would be "gratifying" given the authority's backing.

Lib Dem MP Mr Sanders said the impasse is a "wonderful opportunity" to make sure Torbay retained direct rail services to London. The franchise had indicated they would go. Mr Burns responded: "This is certainly an issue that can be considered when any future franchise bid is being prepared."

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