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Government threatens rural communities with railway modernisation plans, warn campaigners


The last stop for rural railways, warns campaigners

From: http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/news/stop-rural-railways/article-3508915-detail/article.html

The Government threatens severing rural communities' railway links if it adopts modernisation plans which would see train fares rocket and some services facing the axe, campaigners are warning.

Former chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Sir Roy McNulty, has outlined a string of proposals designed to slash staff numbers and decentralise Network Rail, leading to its possible break-up.

Campaigners fear the Government axe will spell the end for small branch lines – described as "lifeline services" for some in rural communities, though a heavy financial burden on the Government due to steep subsidies needed to keep them operational.

Sir Roy's Rail Value for Money review, which has been leaked to the press as well as transport chiefs, warns that industry costs are a "major problem" and need to be reduced by up to 35 per cent to match competitor countries in Europe.

The industry has to give a "better deal" to passengers and taxpayers, it is believed to say.

While news of the review has been welcomed, some fear it is the latest blow to the region's beleaguered transport network, after last month's announcement that FirstGroup may be about to pull the plug on its £1.2 billion Great Western rail franchise three years ahead of schedule after delays to a new fleet of trains and weaker-than-expected revenue.

Chris Irwin, chairman of Travel Watch South West, which represents rail users, said: "The basic thing which Sir Roy is trying to tackle is a really good thing to be happening. Someone has to find a way to make it suitable.

"But from the West Country point of view we have two main concerns.

"Firstly, customers, particularly in rural areas, like to see staff at their train stations. It is reassuring for them to know there are staff around. It makes them feel secure."

Mr Irwin said acting on the review could be a nail in the coffin for branch lines, many of which are subsidised.

He added: "A real worry is what impact spending cuts will have on the lightly used lines which find themselves on the end of a cutback.

"There are a number of lifeline railways which clearly are not making any money but provide a fine service to those who rely upon them.

"The irony is this is all happening at a time when the current Government is winning votes in rural areas – the very areas which the Government will be carrying the knife to."

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