Last weekend I met Sarah Newton MP and Derek Thomas, the prospective Conservative candidate for the St Ives constituency, to discuss the potential of a new train care centre in Penzance. If we could persuade First Great Western to move their facilities to Cornwall, the centre would employ up to sixty people and provide a real boost to the local economy, bringing new skills to our area and meaning long term jobs.
It is just one part of an exciting but realistic package of rail improvements that Cornwall Council has been building up and I have been pushing for in Westminster since last October.
There are three main elements, the train care centre, a sleeper upgrade and a bringing forward of the plans to renovate our ancient signalling system. Different groups have got together to deliver some of the funding but they are also asking the Government to chip in to get the project off the ground. The scheme would revitalise our current rail service and make sure we can deal with the growing number of passengers on our trains.
By improving the signalling facilities and adding new signalling sections between Penzance and Plymouth, we could not only deliver a half local hourly service between the towns all the way to Plymouth but also allow a much faster service with increased reliability. The improvements would also create better capacity and this would tie in with plans for the delivery of additional carriages and more modern diesel trains and rolling stock which will become available as other parts of the country switch to electrification.
An upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service would also be a crucial development. 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 but it needs to be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport. Cornwall Council's plans would see a renovated lounge, modern berths and seating and space for a lot more luggage. It would secure the service for the foreseeable future and maintain a vital lifeline. The local economy would also benefit.
The problems at Dawlish due to the storms earlier this year focused minds on our rail infrastructure and what could be done to improve things. The government commissioned a report to study options for the rail link which is due to report later this summer. But Cornwall Council's transport team deserve credit for the cogency of the plans they have put together.
George Eustice can be contacted at email@example.com or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.