Campaigners have warned that the economy of the South West of England remains at risk after transport secretary Chris Grayling provided a long-awaited but ‘disappointing’ response to demands for a more resilient rail link.
In a statement, the Department for Transport (DfT) said that in the response to a November 2016 report by the Peninsula Rail Task Force (PRTF) Mr Grayling had ‘committed to delivering a modern railway in the South West that is resilient to extreme weather’.
The 2014 storms caused devastation to Dawlish
The DfT said that central to its plans to improve the resilience of the South West Peninsula are upgrades to stretches of railway that run close to the sea through Teignmouth and Dawlish, ‘safeguarding their future against damage as when storms washed away part of the line at Dawlish in 2014’.
However there was no commitment to new funding. Instead officials said that the Government ‘has already provided £15m for Network Rail to design a long-lasting solution to this problem, in addition to the £40m spent by Network Rail to repair the damage caused in the 2014 storm’.
Mr Grayling said: ‘The 2014 storms caused devastation to Dawlish and huge disruption followed. It has been a key priority since I became transport secretary.
‘That’s why we’re investing in the infrastructure of the region – making it easier for people to get around and better connecting the South West to the rest of the country. And that’s why sorting out the route through Dawlish is my number one national rail priority.’
PRTF chair Cllr Geoff Brown said: ‘Whilst we are pleased to see resilience at Dawlish as the Government’s number one priority, after submitting the 20 Year Plan “Closing the Gap” some 15 months ago we are disappointed with the level of detail contained within the response.
‘We had hoped that the Government would outline a detailed programme, bringing much needed resilience to the rail network in the South West, instead we have a response that lacks a detailed action plan and firm commitment to funding.’
He added: ‘The amount of investment we are requesting for the South West rail network is small when compared to elsewhere in the country, yet everyday that passes without investment, our rail line and the South West’s economy remains at risk.’
Earlier this year, Gary Streeter, MP for South West Devon and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary South West Rail Group, said he had 'been assured that there’s going to be a lot of money spent over the next two to three years around Dawlish, around £200m'.