Thursday, 25 January 2018

Resilient Public Transport

In a peninsula like Cornwall with many rural areas, there will always be challenges to building a really resilient public transport structure.  However, some good progress has been made. We have invested to improve the signalling on the main rail line and we have seen the introduction of the new fleet of Tinner buses which marks a major step forwards for the quality of our bus network.
We are also making progress improving things on long haul journeys.  Since I was elected, I have been fighting to get an upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service, which is now being introduced. I am a regular and devoted user of the sleeper service, using it every weekend to get down to Camborne. I know how important the service can be for businesses and visitors alike and I am pleased that it will be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport.  The future of Newquay Airport, once in doubt, is now secure, helped by government support to establish a public service obligation which has increased resilience and led to more people using it and more commercial routes on offer. 

However, the majority of people in Cornwall use public transport primarily for local journeys and that is where there is more to do.  For me the key to making things work better is to try to integrate or join up the bus network with the rail network more effectively than we have done in the past so that rail and bus timetables work in tandem to give people more frequent options to get from one destination to another.  If you are in a village and there are only a couple of buses per day and they travel a very long, rambling route, you will be less inclined to rely on the bus to get about.  However, what if you had more frequent shuttle buses running a much shorter distance to the nearest train station which then connected with a reliable and regular 30 minute local service through the county?
Some interesting ideas are taking shape in this space.  Firstly, I have long pressed for a regular and routine 30 minute local train service through Cornwall with buses then providing onward connections over shorter rural routes to our villages.  If we could join up commercial trunk routes of buses and trains with smaller, local, shuttle buses travelling shorter distances, you start to get the makings of something that could really work and you could build more confidence in the public transport network.  Cornwall Council are now working on detailed plans to help make this a reality.
Secondly, in recent weeks, I have become aware of two separate proposals to significantly improve the rail offer in the Camborne and Redruth area.  A couple of years ago when we were discussing the right location for a stadium in Cornwall, I had argued that we should go for a slightly smaller stadium at Carn Brea Leisure Centre and then re-open a train station at Pool so that you could use public transport to help get people to matches.  I thought it would be a far better option than putting a giant project in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Truro.  Also, we should not accept that everything needs to go to Truro.    At the time, I could not get support for a change of plan because the Truro option was too far entrenched.    

However, discussions around the possibility of a new train station at Carn Brea have come back to life.  The building around Heartlands, the Pool Innovation Centre, the growth of retail space at Pool and new housing around Tuckingmill all strengthen the case for a new train station at Carn Brea.   There was previously a station at Carn Brea, but it was closed in 1961.  It had also previously been the home of the West Cornwall Railway’s workshops, where locomotives were maintained.  Things go full circle and it would be great if we could re-open the station at Carn Brea which would considerably improve the resilience of our transport infrastructure.
Finally, the second idea being mooted is to establish a small train station or halt at Ponsanooth.  There has been talk of a station at Ponsanooth in the past but it has never quite come off.  The Falmouth branch line runs alongside Kennall Vale Woods, and Ponsanooth viaduct is an iconic part of the landscape. The fact that we now have a university outside Penryn and growing use of rail in the county means that the option of an additional halt at Ponsanooth has become an interesting proposition in my view and I am keen to work with local groups developing these ideas which would really help connect the village to Falmouth and Truro.


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