Last weekend saw the reopening of the railway line at Dawlish in time for the Easter holidays and the reconnection of Cornwall to the rest of the country by rail. Credit where credit is due it has been a huge effort by First Great Western and Network Rail and it is a great achievement to have the line up and running two weeks ahead of schedule. Every weekend I travel down from London to Camborne on the sleeper and I will be just one of many in our area who are welcoming this news.
The last few weeks at Dawlish have seen a large team of engineers, known as the 'Orange Army' for their fluorescent vests, work around the clock to get the line restored. It has been a massive job because overall around eighty meters of the track was deemed unusable and the logistics of working so near the sea made it even more difficult. There was also further bad weather to deal with and a landslide had to be forced just south of Dawlish when a large chunk of earth became dangerously exposed at Teignmouth. Overall it is estimated that the initial costs are around £35 million, although the costs to our local economy meant we needed to see the line restored as soon as possible.
We now need to look at what can we can do to further improve our rail link and to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again. There has been a lot of talk around developing an existing line via Okehampton as an additional emergency line in case of further damage, or as an alternative main line in the future. There are also other ideas around further tunnelling on the existing route. Network Rail has commissioned a report to look at these and I think that is a good first step. No one doubts that more should be done but we need to make sure change is sensitive to the places like Dawlish whose economy has grown up around the railway.
We also need to make sure we get a better deal for Cornwall and I have always pushed for fairer funding to allow this to happen. Finally we are making some progress and there are discussions taking place that could see an extensive sleeper upgrade as well as a huge improvement to signalling on the tracks. This in turn could see far more frequent services from Penzance to Plymouth and with more rolling stock becoming available in the next couple of years it would also mean more capacity.
I think this is encouraging news because these targets are achievable in a short timeframe and will make a real difference. As we are on a Peninsula the journey to London is always going to be a long one, but we need to keep prices down and offer more flexibility.
George Eustice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.