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Railwatch 071 - April 1997

South West

By Gerard Duddridge

Bus watch It was hoped that following Prism's acquisition of South Wales and West Railways, that bustitution of rail services due to shortage of rolling stock would cease. No such luck. The first privatised bustitutions in Cornwall occurred on 24, 27, 28 and 30 December 1996 plus 1 January 1997. Devon has not escaped either and the local press has reported on the use of a bus to relieve overcrowding on the morning train to Torbay. History seems to repeat itself.

Okehampton The return of passenger trains to Okehampton is looking increasingly likely for a summer Sunday service in association with the now extensive bus network which operates across Dartmoor. Bus improvments resulted from a public transport partnership between Devon County Council, West Devon Borough Council, the European Union and the Rural Development Commission. We hope that in future years these will form the basis of a bus feeder network to a full weekday train service on the Okehampton to Exeter line.

Cornwall station survey Both Great Western Trains and South Wales and West Railways have acknowledged as useful the RDS survey into the condition of Cornwall's stations.

Many infrastructure matters are included in Railtrack's five-year backlog maintenance programme which should see significant improvements at many stations, says Tim Bell, sales manager of South Wales and West Railway.

Planning for rail Upgrading the Great Western main line as well as the Exeter to Waterloo line is included in the Devon County Structure Plan which also talks of station reopenings at Cullompton, Kingskerswell, Plympton and South Brent plus Okehampton and Tavistock and associated lines from Crediton and Bere Alston. Before the plan is finalised we asked for some disused railway routes to be protected.

East Devon Local Plan The branch asked for route preservation of the former Sidmouth railway line and made specific references to parts of the line. The response was a firm "no" on the grounds that safeguarding is only justified if a public authority has a proposal which would require the land and would accept blight notices if permission for development was refused. However, one district councillor responded to our submission by having the following text added to the plan: "In some cases disused railway lines have potential for use as railways in the future and the council will endeavour to safeguard such land from other development." We support this, though in planning terms it does not have the weight of a policy statement.

Inter-availability South West Trains refuses to change its views on an inter-available ticket to London from Exeter. As a result, passengers travelling to Waterloo and returning via Paddington still have to buy two single tickets at almost twice the cost of a Saver return. RDS insists that the situation from Exeter should be no different to that applying between London and Birmingham. Different operators have cheap tickets available for use only on their services, but there is still an "any permitted route" Saver and cheap day return ticket on any operator's service. Indeed, passengers from Crediton or Newton Abbot and west still have this option. So far, no further reply has been received. What is clear is that South West Trains values competition with other operators above co-operation.

Camel trail Freight trains will be able to travel from English China Clay's plant at Wenford to Boscarne Junction following the Government's decision to grant a light railway order. The benefits of moving freight by rail were counted more important that the interests of walkers on the Camel trail which was created out of the old London and South Western Railway.e Government's decision to grant a light railway order. The benefits of moving freight by rail were counted more important that the interests of walkers on the Camel trail which was created out of the old London and South Western Railway.

Plymouth hopes for 140mph trains

Tilting trains running up to 140mph could provide a high-speed rail link from London to the West Country with the fastest present journey time of two hours being reduced to about 90 minutes.

The existing route from London to Exeter via Newbury and Westbury would need to be selectively upgraded, RDS South West branch chairman Gerard Duddridge outlined at a packed meeting in Plymouth on 16 November.

West of Exeter, the best option was probably some realignment, but relying mainly on the new tilting-train technology to reduce journey times.

Reopening the Exeter-Plymouth line via Okehampton would not reduce end-to-end journey times, but would provide a useful diversionary route as well as serving the local market.

Local authorities and other organisations should work together and put a case to the Government for funding railway improvements, said Martin Reynolds, director of Railtrack's Great Western zone. He promised that Railtrack would consider electrification if there was a business case for it, or if external funding were made available.

Gerard Duddridge commented afterwards to local journalists: "I understand that Martin Reynolds will be putting some of his staff in contact with us to discuss some of the RDS research further. There is likely to be a renewed attempt to obtain a European Grant for a feasibility study, so that we hope there will be every chance that the project will be started soon."

The European Commission has since awarded about £650,000 towards a study into upgrading a part of the Great Western main line. This will cover the Bristol to Penzance line, especially the sections in Devon and Cornwall where line speeds are below average. The study will consider items such as signalling, track geometry and clearances.

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