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Fight on to save South West rail services as Government confirms cuts

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 28, 2012

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The Government has confirmed one-third of direct train services between London and Cornwall are under threat as it finally unveiled details of the new Great Western rail franchise.

But the Department for Transport (DfT) has offered hope that all nine daily services from Paddington to Penzance could be retained after 11th-hour lobbying over proposed cuts that could leave the Duchy with just six trains to the capital.

The DfT also confirmed the existing franchise, run by First Great Western, would be extended by seven months – a delay that could leave taxpayers with a hefty bill.

In better news, ministers are also demanding that train firms wanting to run services throughout the South West will have to provide a new early morning service from Plymouth to London.

They also want to see how much the advent of a "Devon Metro" linking Exeter to surrounding towns would cost.

Cornwall MPs and the local authority were last night preparing to fight to retain the status quo.

Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, said: "We have everything to play for now. Six inter-city services from Penzance will be suggesting that Cornwall can become a branch line and have services cut to help fund expensive upgrades and electrification almost everywhere else. This would be bad news for business, passengers and the tourist industry."

The DfT yesterday issued its invitation to tender, which sets out what the Government expects from the four shortlisted bidders wanting to take control of the 15-year franchise from July. The deal was originally slated to start three months earlier.

Rail Minister Theresa Villiers explained Cornwall would continue to get nine "journey opportunities" from London, plus the much-cherished sleeper. But only six are guaranteed direct or "through" services, with the remaining three requiring passengers to change in Devon.

After last week's outrage as details leaked, the DfT has offered a concession. It has asked the bidders to provide costs for nine direct services, and will choose between the two alternatives when bidders submit their plans. This is expected in October with a new operator appointed in March.

Train firms will also be required to provide costs for a new service every 30 minutes from Penzance to Plymouth or Exeter – which Cornwall Council has pressed for as a replacement for losing the three direct trains.

Ms Villiers said: "The coalition Government appreciates the importance of this issue for Cornwall. Rail franchising always involves difficult decisions, but we have made efforts to respond to the concerns expressed by local MPs."

George Eustice, Tory MP for Camborne and Redruth, met the minister with Mr George and Dan Rogerson, Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall, last week in Westminster.

Mr Eustice said: "This is a very positive step. The key task now is to demonstrate that rising passenger numbers in Cornwall justify an improved service in the future."

Mr Rogerson added: "The DfT have clearly recognised the seriousness of this issue, but I am disappointed that they haven't insisted on nine through trains at this stage."

If the Penzance services were axed, the London trains would stop at Plymouth – meaning Devon would be unaffected.

The tender document, which will see "broadly the same number of trains" deployed, also requires bidders to put on an extra train from Plymouth to arrive in the capital before 10am so businesspeople can get there and back in a day.

Train companies are also expected to provide costs for:

A Devon Metro for services into Exeter from Exmouth, Barnstaple, Newton Abbot and Paignton.

An additional one train per hour service on the Riviera line from Newton Abbot to Paignton in Devon.

Re-opening of the rail line from Bere Alston to Tavistock in Devon.

Popular local services added since the last franchise in 2006 – notably Truro to Falmouth and Par to Newquay – have now been written into the contract.

The DfT confirmed the existing franchise will run for longer than expected, but has yet to confirm if First will continue running the line in the interim – even though there appears no other option.

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  • Nevman  |  July 30 2012, 8:26AM

    timplymouth, I used to travel by train a lot more in the days of British Rail and the vast majority of trains ran on time. Six-footers like me weren't forced into closely-packed airline seats and we had tables (or compartments) and buffet cars on all inter-city services, plus a properly trained guard and not an invisible succession of 'train managers' freshly recruited from call centres. And, on the rare accidents when accidents happened, a dozen armies of fat cat lawyers didn't swing into action to spend the next couple of years playing the blame game; engineers just got right on with the job of investigating what went wrong and how to make sure it didn't happen again. Rose tinted glasses? Maybe, but they're no worse than blue-tinted ones.

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  • timplymouth  |  July 29 2012, 11:39PM

    I don't know what world you live in, but in the British Rail days the service was rubbish, the trains were late and the network was unsafe. Things have come a long way. Of course some people see the past with rose-tinted glasses.

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  • budgie56JK  |  July 29 2012, 8:30PM

    How can so many of you out there no longer have faith in the great Maggie's privatization schemes? It is impossible not to remember those wonderful elections of 1979 & 1983 when so many of you had a a couple shares in your pockets and believed yourselves to be of the new capitalist class. Kenneth Clark did speed up the privatization of Brtish Rail to alpine proportions during 1994 to 1995 in the full knowledge that the then Conservative administration would loose the next General Election. During this haste for speed the franchise contracts were never properly considered or formulated, and as per usual it become just another sad money making machine for Tory friends in the City of London. Not that new Labour (old Tory) changed anything of course. I can see no other parallel in history when the railways were ruined for the sake of anachronistic party political dogma which went against national interest. The only possible exception may have been when the railways in Nazi Germany were taken over to transport as many Jews as possible such that military movements were considered quite secondary in the knowledge that Germany might loose the war.

  • timplymouth  |  July 29 2012, 7:12PM

    Nationalising the FGW franchise would not save any money. Whether we provide a subsidy to the operating company or run a nationalised service at a loss makes no difference. If you want to bring the privately owned trains into your nationalised railway then you would need billions upon billions of pounds. Money the country does not have.

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  • hstmtu4000  |  July 29 2012, 12:51PM

    timplymouth we are already paying out £billions of taxpayers money each year to prop up a psuodo-privatised railway,thats money that British Rail would have used to make improvement to our neglected railway in the South West rather than supporting boardrooms and shareholders.I am in no way anti-privatisation,I worked in the private sector all my life.What private companies who recieve no state aid do with their own money and are answerable only to their own shareholders is their business.But what private rail companies do with huge amounts of taxpayers money needed for the the ongoing finance of our psuodo privatisated railway is not their business but the Governments and therefore tax payers business. Great Westerns current fleet of high speed trains (HSTs) was designed,built and put in service by British Rail engineers in the 1970s at bargain cost to the taxpayer compared to todays privatisation farce as was every local train used on Devon/Cornwalls main and branch lines.All the current signalling that controls those lines was provided by British rail.All First Great Western (FGW) have done is to refurbish those aging trains again at tax payers expense via the current FGW franchise subsidy/Premium profile.A current project to strenghen FGWs 7 coach HSTS to 8 coaches using redundant restaurant coaches converted to standard class accommadation as well as the return to Great Western of 5 class 180 trains for Cotswold line services is also being payed for by the taxpayer not FGW.Do I really need to go on.

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  • TopMinstrel  |  July 29 2012, 11:21AM

    I understand that the policy makers are going to construct a very deep thrench filled with great white sharks that will run from the Bristol Channel to the English Channel with single lane entry points and quadruple lane exit points for trains buses and coaches, thus making the West Country a virtual wilderness that only a few would want to be in. OH CRICKEY i've just woken up, it was a nightmare, mind you they may as well the way things are going it soon will be. Our problem is that we are to far outside the M25

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  • nickthompson  |  July 29 2012, 11:17AM

    Last thursday it was necessary (because of an emegency) for me to return home to Manchester from Bristol,rather than pay the £235.70 train fare,I took a taxi at £170, the train (minus my bottom) did the journey anyway,and I suspect like the train I came on was 2/3rds empty.

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  • Nikgee  |  July 29 2012, 10:56AM

    Talk about putting the southwest back into the dark ages, with the recent cutting of bus services, now they want to cut the trains as well! I have heard of putting toll booths on all the main arterial roads into Devon and Cornwall. It is not the MP's we are so fond of blaming, but the unelected civil servants behind who are making these crazy decisions, who then hide behind the aforementioned MP's. Yes it is true the rail services are making a loss, only because they are discouraging people through extortionate fares, and shorter trains. The whole rail network service should be re-nationalized because the amount of tax sweeteners to encourage the private sector to take on the service seems pointless, yet the shareholders still get their cut. The figures just don't add up. Personally I prefer just one ticket to get me from A to B instead half a trees worth of tickets!

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  • timplymouth  |  July 29 2012, 10:14AM

    Nationalisation would achieve nothing but would cost a huge amount of money. You'd have to buy all the trains from the companies that purchased them, at a cost of billions. Given the state of government finances this would lead to another few decades of underinvestment and no new trains. The reason the railways cost so much is because of all the new safety features and maintenance introduced after the spate of crashes we had in the 90s. Our network has too many junctions, too many crossings, too many sidings, too many corners, too many stations, too many old trains. In effect we're a victim of the early success of the railways in Britain and are left with a huge maintenance hangover. Anyway, if there aren't that many passengers it does make sense for the 125s to start/end at Plymouth. A smaller DMU could be a lot more cost effective. If they co-ordinated the FGW and CC services with a local Cornwall route it could be better for the Cornish traveller as they could run more frequent services from Plymouth into Cornwall.

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  • Eddie_PZ  |  July 28 2012, 10:57PM

    Lets not forget where the blame lies in all of this - with the ConDem coalition government. Rather like its predecessor, Thatcher, it knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. All the pontificating and posturing by the likes of George and Eustice (in Penwith) can't hide the fact that they are part of the government that has ConDemned Cornwall on so many different fronts. With the Labour Party still infested with the MPs that got us into the financial mess, our only hope now is a surge in support for UKIP.

    |   -41