Published: 8th July 2014
The Prime Minister has announced a rail improvement project costed at £146.6 million which will see the Cornish rail network improved and a significant ‘Night Riviera’ sleeper service upgrade.
Also promised is an improved signalling system to be provided five years ahead of the original plan and the transfer of jobs to Long Rock Train Maintenance Depot in Penzance when London’s Old Oak Common is closed next year.
The scheme has been worked up over the last 18 months by Cornwall Council, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, First Great Western, (FGW) Network Rail (NR) and the Department for Transport (DfT).
Two stored sleeper carriages are being returned to service and are being renovated by Knorr-Bremse Rail Services. These will be used on the Night Riviera Sleeper service which runs between London Paddington and Penzance. As well as the extra carriages, other improvements to the overnight service such as the quality of the Sleeper berths, day coaches and the saloon area will be completed by April 2016.
Network Rail will renew signalling on the 80 mile long Cornish main line by the end of 2018, being advanced by five years they say. The new signalling will be designed to increase capacity, reduce journey times and enable Cornwall Council's stated aim of sponsoring a half-hourly service on the line to be delivered.
The FGW train maintenance depot at Penzance will be modernised and enlarged becoming fully operational in just over two years time. The depot will have its engineering facilities upgraded as well as it capacity increased. Once the project is complete, the depot will be able to handle the extra work involved servicing the ‘Night Riviera’ sleeping cars and extra local trains need to run the half-hourly service.
A new depot had to be found because Old Oak Common depot just west of Paddington in West London, will be closed within two years to make way for the new Crossrail interchange station.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This investment, which will boost the local economy and improve connectivity, is great news for Cornwall, the South West and beyond.”
Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Transportation, Bert Biscoe said: “This announcement is great news for Cornwall. We have been working closely with the LEP and First Great Western to improve our rail services and are delighted that the Government is supporting our plans. This is a real opportunity to develop Cornwall’s public transport network. Enhancing the main line signalling in Cornwall is just as important as dualling the A30 and building the Tamar Bridge in keeping Cornwall connected.”
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said; Rail travel in Cornwall is growing rapidly, and investing in the rail network here is crucial to securing long-term economic growth. These improvements will safeguard and create jobs, improve services for millions of passengers and provide better access to the south-west of England.
Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, Chris Pomfret said: “Transport connectivity is always one of the first issues identified by the business community as a barrier to Cornwall’s economic growth. This investment makes a major step forward in addressing this issue through an enhanced sleeper service and potentially a more regular and resilient link to London and the rest of the country.
First Great Western Managing Director Mark Hopwood said: “This upgrade takes the Night Riviera Sleeper product to a whole new level, providing top class accommodation, increasing capacity and introducing a brasserie-style bar area while paving the way for potential future train service improvements.”
Network Rail’s Western Route Managing Director Patrick Hallgate said:
“The South West has a vibrant economy which is experiencing staggering growth in demand for rail travel. That can only be supported by putting in the best possible connections to the rest of the country. Network Rail is proud to be playing a part in that success story."
Knorr-Bremse Managing Director, Paul Goodhand said: “We are delighted to be involved with the improvement programme being implemented by First Great Western to their Night Riviera Sleeper service. “Knorr-Bremse RailServices is carrying out a complete refurbishment on the trains which will make them even more attractive for passengers traveling the Paddington to Penzance route.
The package is funded by £9 million from the DfT, £29.6 million secured through Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, £103.5 million from Network Rail and £4.5 million from train operator First Great Western.
Official figures show that nearly 7 million passengers use the rail network in Cornwall every year, with passenger numbers growing twice as fast as the national average.
The Dawlish closure probably proved to be the final catalyst for the investment and cynics would suggest that the upcoming election may have helped secure the funding. But, whatever the behind the scenes machinations, its very good news for the far west rail network.