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In my opinion: Westcountry rail links can be improved with 'money no object'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 09, 2014

By Tim Wallace, Penzance

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Galashiels in the Scottish borders has a population of about 12,000. Tweedbank has around 2,000 with the same number in the nearby town of Melrose.

So what? Well, a rail link is about to be re-established between these places and Edinburgh after a gap of half a century, at a cost of £350million, not including the trains (which will not be new, but will still be pricey to lease) or train and station staff.

Ten new stations have been built, viaducts reconstructed and new alignments built from scratch: what is more, there will be a half-hourly service for most of the day. Scotland is not (as yet anyway) an independent country, so the bulk of this money will have come from the taxpayers of the UK.

Some people like to compare Cornwall with Brittany. In Brittany right now a 180km high speed line is being built to connect Rennes with the existing TGV network at Le Mans, which will speed journeys to and from Paris by 37 minutes (they currently take two hours). Another 20 miles of “ordinary” track is also being built and a line of 30 miles has just reopened after 34 years.

My point is that down here in Cornwall, partly for historical reasons, we are stuck with a very slow train service which goes to or through places we do not often wish to go to (like Dawlish) and taking a tortuous course. Imagine if Paddington to South Wales services were compulsorily diverted via Castle Cary (but not actually stopping there) and you have a parallel.

So, now David Cameron has said “money is no object” the bull should be taken by the horns and the Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock route rebuilt or brought up to main-line, double-track standard ready for electrification.

In addition, a new connection built between Liskeard and Okehampton via Launceston, bringing places like Camelford and Boscastle within reasonable distance of a station for the first time in decades.

Penzance to Exeter should then be possible by train in about two hours rather than three hours (plus).

High speed as such can never come to Cornwall because all trains must stop at seven or eight stations to serve the county properly and feed the branch line trains – and electrification will surely never be authorised via Dawlish and the coast.

The Torquay branch could be served by extending South West Trains’ Waterloo to Exeter service, as has happened in the past.

Newton Abbot to Liskeard via Plymouth should have a regular hourly service, extended at both ends as necessary. The non-electrified sleeper service and cross-country trains could also continue via the “classic” route.

While all this would cost quite a lot, I suggest it would represent far better value for money than the other examples I have quoted.

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