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Rail improvements still on track despite franchise blow


Rail improvements still on track despite franchise blow

Monday, June 24, 2013

Western Morning News 

The Government has promised to press ahead with improvements to train services in the Westcountry despite delays caused by the Great Western rail franchise debacle.

Transport Minister Simon Burns has told MPs that First Great Western has been asked to calculate the cost of upgrading some branch-lines in Devon and Cornwall as an extended deal is thrashed out with the firm.

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In February, ministers scrapped the competition for the new Great Western franchise, and they have now asked First to continue running the contract up until July 2016. Talks are ongoing.

But in the House of  Commons, Mr Burns revealed for the first time First will be asked to "provide prices" for improvements, which would affect how much the Government charges the company to run services in exchange for pocketing fares in an extend the deal.

The improvements, called for by local authorities, include enhanced Plymouth to Penzance local services; the extension of St Ives trains to Penzance; additional Looe line services; additional Exeter to Okehampton services; and the Tavistock to Bere Alston line reopening.

The minister also said that by terminating the Great Western franchise competition, thanks to the fall-out from botched franchises elsewhere, plans to cut direct services from London to the west of Cornwall would be scrapped. The original tender called for more changes at Plymouth to get to the Duchy. However, it also means a "there and back in a day" service between Plymouth and London has also been ditched, with fears it may not re-emerge.

In the Commons debate, called for by North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson, who called for the reinstatement of rail services in the area, Mr Burns also strongly ruled out prospects of an alternative mainline through Devon to avoid the notorious Dawlish coastal pass.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Burns said the Government is intent that the interim agreement period for the Great Western franchise "should not be a time of uncertainty or stagnation" and that "benefits for passengers previously sought in new substantive franchise agreements were not delayed".

He went on that up until July 2016 the Great Western franchise will continue to be based on the specification in the current franchise. "That means that through train services between London and Cornwall and the popular London to Penzance sleeper train will continue to be required," he said.

He added that First Great Western has been asked to provide "prices for the priced options callable by local authorities during the interim agreement period to July 2016".

"First Great Western will be required to co-operate with local authorities in the continuing development of those priced options with a later call date," he said.

Of the Dawlish line, he said: "It is still not clear that reopening the former route would be an affordable or value-for-money solution."

In the debate, Lib Dem Mr Rogerson asked the Government to re-introduce rail services to Bodmin town centre and create a regular service to Okehampton to help the Launceston and Bude areas.

He said afterwards: "The minister was positive about maintaining and improving both existing rail services within Cornwall and our direct and sleeper services from Penzance to London."

Read more: http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Rail-improvements-track-despite-franchise-blow/story-19374707-detail/story.html#ixzz2X7g5afEi

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