Those wanting to see carbon emissions cut may well celebrate the loss of Plymouth’s direct air link to the capital. Personally, I feel the loss of a key piece of infrastructure supporting the city’s economic development. Meanwhile, while it is good to see the Coalition Government committing to a high-speed rail future for Britain, the fact that this will not come to the West Country for the foreseeable future means the region will only see other parts of the country become more competitive.
Added to that, the motorway network ends at Exeter, and while the rail service to London is direct, the line west of Exeter is by no means fast – even if the view out the window, especially between Exeter and Newton Abbot, is exceptionally picturesque.
With Plymouth much more dependent on the public sector than many other parts of the country, and with public spending under pressure thanks to the record deficit, we need to ensure the city has the infrastructure to attract business interest and investment from outside. Transport links are a key part of that, and, as things stand, the rail link is crucial, especially the link to London.
Things are improving. I was comparing the current timetable of services between London and Plymouth with an old one I found from 2009. The service now is actually better. There are no London to Plymouth trains in the older timetable that can boast the three-hour journey time, while the current timetable lists two every weekday. There is also a weekday three-hour train back to the capital too. Well over a dozen direct services shuttle in each direction between the capital and Plymouth every weekday.
More could be done, and I have a two-part prescription. The first part is easy: we must all commit to protect from any potential threat the Night Riviera sleeper service. Believe it or not, it is one of just two sleeper services in the entire country; the other runs up to Scotland. Without the sleeper, the earliest someone could arrive in Plymouth from London, by train, would be 11.17am. The sleeper has been under threat before and, thanks to local people willing to campaign, it is still with us.
The other thing I would like to see is at least one super-fast service between London and Plymouth each weekday. Last October, a train ran from Plymouth to Paddington in two hours, 43 minutes. Why not convert one service each weekday in each direction into one of these super-fast services? If the train came up through Cornwall before being fired up the line to London, or continue onto Cornwall after pulling into Plymouth after arriving from London, this would benefit the whole of the far South West. If we are to be at the bottom of the list for high-speed rail then surely this is the least we deserve?