Devon and Cornwall’s leaders will today tell MPs that the region’s railway line turning into a “Peruvian rope bridge” underlines the parlous state of transport serving the Westcountry.
Council and business chiefs are expected to give evidence to the cross-party transport select committee of MPs on how the brutal winter weather crippled travel on the peninsula.
The only train line into Devon and through to Cornwall has been down at Dawlish since the beginning of February, with rail bosses now hoping for it to be restored by mid-April after ditching their six-week repair plan.
The track crumbling into the sea is just one of a number of vulnerable stretches on the Great Western line, while travel by road is also fragile since there is only one motor-way to the South West, and air links to Cornwall are in doubt.
Those appearing before MPs in Westminster will underline how ministers need to pledge long-term transport projects for the South West, not quick fixes. A campaign kick-started by the Western Morning News argues that, while £42 billion of public money is to be lavished on the north-south High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link, a fraction of that investment would reap huge dividends if channelled to the South West.
In today’s WMN, Tudor Evans, leader of Plymouth City Council, who will appear before MPs, writes that the “vital rail link” has been rendered a “Peruvian rope bridge”.
He says: “We must not lose the momentum for what we know the peninsula needs and that is a fast, reliable, resilient, rail network for the 21st century.”
Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, who will also represent the region, told the WMN the South West had suffered from under-investment “for many years”. He said: “We have inadequate infrastructure – there is not so much a north-south divide but a south west-south east divide.
“We could possibly live with the railway line if the alternatives were reliable. But our air route is not secure and if there is a problem with the M5 we are relying on single carriageways on parts of the A303 and A30. So we are not talking about a short-term issue.”
He added: “The short-term crisis means it should be impossible for the Government to ignore long-term problems.”
The committee will first hear from Mr Pomfret and Mr Evans, as well as Tracey Lee, chief executive of Plymouth City Council, Phil Norrey, chief executive of Devon County Council, David Thomas, deputy mayor of Torbay Council, and Charles Uzzell, director of place at Torbay Council.
They will be followed, in the second session, by Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, Patrick Hallgate, route managing director of Network Rail, and Mark Hopwood, First Great Western’s managing director.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin is expected to give evidence later.