Thursday, October 10, 2013
There will be no new trains, extra services or improvements to the Exmouth rail line for at least three years because of a Government ‘mess’.
Mistakes made as part of the Department for Transport process for awarding train franchises have led to much-needed service improvments being put on hold.
The Avocet Line Rail Users’ Group (ALRUG) had hoped for improvements to the Exmouth to Exeter line once the new 15-year franchise was awarded.
But now the DfT has cancelled the process – and instead ruled that services be run by First Great Western (FGW) for the next two years as a stopgap.
The extension gives FGW little incentive to invest if the company cannot be sure of being awarded the franchise in 2016.
ALRUG chairman Tony Day said that the decision effectively meant that improvements on the busiest branch line in the South West would not now happen until 2016 at the earliest.
The news is especially disappointing because the number of passengers on the Exmouth to Exeter rail line has rocketed by an astonishing 75 per cent in just a decade.
And a summer trial of extra Sunday services proved so popular that ALRUG wanted to make it permanent timetable fixture.
But Avocet line trains are out- of-date 1980s diesels and need replacing – faults and breakdowns have accounted for two-thirds of cancellations on the line in recent months.
Mr Day said: “This announcement is very disappointing.
“We suffer from a situation where passenger numbers are growing fast but there are not enough diesel units available. Many of the trains we do have are at the end of their useful life and break down increasingly often.
“This results in overcrowded and sometimes unreliable trains – and now it’s just going to get worse and worse for the foreseeable future.”
He did not blame First Great Western, and said that the company had been ‘doing their best’ and that ALRUG would continue to work with them to get the best service possible.
He added: “But there are simply no extra trains available, anywhere in the country.
“It is the franchising system that is in a mess, with the cancellation of what would have been a 15-year franchise that allowed for private investment in new rolling stock.
“The longer franchise that was proposed also had an option for a half-hourly Sunday service, year round on the Exmouth line, which could have started next year. The need for this has been proved by us, but it also seems now to have disappeared from Government plans.”
A spokesman for FGW said: “We know that, for most passengers, the key thing is that trains keep running, turn up on time, and that they are able to get a seat.
“They will welcome the certainty and stability this extension to the Great Western franchise will bring but may be disappointed that they have an extended wait for some of the benefits that will accompany the longer franchise when it is finally awarded.”