They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What, then, does the image of the main railway line between the South West and the rest of the country dangling in mid-air say about our region? The picture of the line at Dawlish underlines in grim detail how fragile the Westcountry’s infrastructure is. Torbay MP Adrian Sanders is right to describe the situation as a disaster and he is right to call for the Government to intervene with significant – and rapid – funding to resolve the problem.
The reality is that this section of the main line into and out of the South West is likely to be unusable for weeks, if not months, a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.
The damage to the line at Dawlish will be a costly and lengthy process to put right but it needs to be a priority for a government that has, many times before, been accused of putting the Westcountry’s needs at the bottom of its ‘to do’ list.
The Government has sanctioned spending £42 billion on the controversial HS2 scheme in order to shave 20 minutes off journey times between the Midlands and London. But it’s a sad irony that, at present, one million people living in Devon and Cornwall don’t even have a rail link to London. In addition, Plymouth City Airport has been closed since 2011 and flights between Newquay and London will rely on public subsidy to continue from this summer.
And, of course, the main road links of the M5 and A303 are prone to gridlock, particularly if there is an accident. All in all, it’s a worrying picture of a region that is becoming worse, not better, connected to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. It’s particularly depressing given that concerns about the line at Dawlish are not new.
As transport analyst Neill Mitchell points out on this page, planning for an alternative to the Dawlish line began in 1935 with funding agreed for an inland route which was stymied by the outbreak of the Second World War. Hopefully, the Government will have learned some lessons from its woefully inadequate response to the flooding in Somerset and will give the South West immediate assurances of significant funding to address this problem.
If not, then the region’s councils and MPs must make sure that this issue is dragged to the top of Westminster’s agenda and kept there until action is taken. This situation is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.