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WMN opinion: Improved rail services are a must for the Westcountry

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: January 04, 2013

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Wet, wetter, wettest? Take a guess, as you pick your way through the mud, past the potholes, around the huge mounds of washed-away field stones, and through the huge puddles still down at the end of the lane.

We reckon most people would have put their money on 2012 being the wettest year in the Westcountry since records began, but no!

Believe it not there have been wetter – one, indeed, in recent memory. The year 2000 saw 1,584mm of rain fall in the West, just out-stripping last year’s total of 1,574mm.

Both were positively dry compared with 1960, which saw a sopping 1,591mm drenching the region.

If you cast your mind back though, the Westcountry was in drought in the early spring before April showers turned to deluge. It doesn’t seem to have stopped raining since.

But whatever the statistics say, one thing that the winter downpours have shown beyond all reasonable doubt is how very fragile the region’s transport links are.

And while the floods have exposed what are critical infrastructure weaknesses, it all added up to more misery on the trains for beleaguered travellers.

Problems getting to the far West by rail and road are nothing new. The Western Morning News has many, many times, put the case for more capital investment in our rail links, as well as consistently challenging rail operators to improve their services.

Apart from making it possible to get home for Christmas, there is little doubt that good rail links support jobs and growth.

Not being on London’s doorstep puts our region at a disadvantage economically. Research has shown that for every 100 minutes’ travel time from London, productivity drops by 6%.

Internet connectivity has improved dramatically across Devon and Cornwall in the past five years, but improvements in rail travel would be a significant boost.

So, when one hears a committee of MPs reporting that rail passengers stand to get a better service if the Government devolves running of the lines to regions, it is time to sit up and take notice.

Both Cornwall Council and Devon County Council have submitted expressions of interest to the Department for Transport (DfT) over the region having some responsibility for the railways after the Government launched a consultation last year.

The principle is common in Germany, where the trains famously run on time, and has already been and has already been established in London and Merseyside, with significant results.

With the future of the Great Western franchise currently in the balance following the West coast mainline fiasco, it is vital that the right decisions are made for the future of rail services in Devon and Cornwall.

And it goes without saying, that anything that will improve the service provided to Westcountry rail travellers is worth proper consideration.

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