Rail links for the South West in danger of becoming second class

19th February, 2013
The Institution of Civil Engineers South West (ICE) will be seeking an urgent review of the rail network in the South West this summer, amid concerns that the existing infrastructure is struggling.

Regional Director of ICE South West, Trish Johnson said: ?The recent spate of bad weather conditions has highlighted the fragile state of parts of the South West transport infrastructure.

?Whether caused by snow and freezing conditions or flooding, the region is disproportionately affected. There are only two routes into the far South West by road, Flybe is cutting jobs at Exeter airport and Plymouth airport has been closed, therefore keeping rail networks open is vital.

?The stark reality is that in times of severe weather conditions, areas of the South West are effectively cut off. Road and rail closures disrupt mainline and key routes as well as the smaller networks. There is also the work that needs doing to repair rail structures after the weather has subsided. The resulting economic impact on our area is significant.?

Even without bad weather, rail journey times across the South West are a source of constant frustration to travellers, with travel times to London so strong an issue for Cornwall and Plymouth, that local MPs have highlighted the problem in Commons debates.

Plans to create a rail link from Reading direct to Heathrow will help international commuters and reduce congestion, improving journey time reliability. The current improvements being made to Reading station will have a similar positive impact on journeys to London.

High Speed Two (HS2) will be coming to Bristol as will the Intercity Express Programme (IEP). This is good news for the more northern end of the region but for the large area south of Bristol the picture is less promising.

A major rethink on rail infrastructure across the South West will be necessary. As well as feasibility studies into the electrification of lines South of Bristol and an alternative inland route, through Devon, the Institution of Civil Engineers would like to see a structured programme of improvements implemented.

South West Member of ICE Council, Richard Fish, said: ?Signalling improvements and full dual line capacity on the Exeter to Waterloo line would create a real main line alternative to London, while improving capacity for the Dorchester to Southampton line will reduce journey times for commuters to London from South Dorset.

?With the severe disruption to mainline service caused by the flooding at Cowley Bridge in Exeter, priority must be given to improving resilience here, as the impact on Plymouth through to Cornwall effectively cuts them off from the rest of the rail network. We can?t turn Cornwall into a branch line.?

Richard continued: ?The government has identified poor transport infrastructure as one of the key barriers to inward investment and economic growth, an area in which the South West is struggling.

?However, there are improvements that can be made now that will have a positive impact and ICE is looking for serious action and investment to address the very real rail issues across the region.?

The Institution of Civil Engineers will be producing a ?State of the Nation? report on Transport in June. ICE South West will be contributing to this report providing regional perspective and calling for a serious review of South West transport infrastructure as a whole.