Biggest cuts since Beeching will slash rural train services
The Times: February 25, 2006
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
DOZENS of branch lines and stations are to lose up to half their trains as the Government looks to cut more than £1 billion in rail subsidies.
The cuts are concentrated in the West Country but the Department for Transport is also considering reducing services on the South Coast and across northern England. Even those branch lines that have recently begun to show an upturn in usage, such as the scenic St Ives line in Cornwall, are to have their services reduced.
The Government wants to cut more than £1 billion from the rail network?s £5 billion annual subsidy and is reviewing the future of all loss-making services. Rail consumes 40 per cent of the Government's transport budget but accounts for only 6 per cent of the total distance travelled.
Despite ministers publicly offering support for what they have labelled "community railways", they have privately decided that many are too lightly used to justify their cost.
Passenger groups fear that the cuts, the biggest since the Beeching closures of the 1960s, are a forerunner to widespread cuts after the next election.
Commuters into Plymouth will suffer the greatest loss of services under the draft timetable published this week by First Great Western and due to start in December. Further cuts are also being planned for the new South West Trains franchise. Chandler's Ford will lose all 18 daily direct services to Southampton.
Services between London Waterloo and Bristol and Paignton will also be abolished.
The DfT said the changes to South West Trains would "address the need to consider the affordability and value for money issues surrounding services that are currently financially marginal to operate".
On the Great Western cuts, it said that the train operator, First Group, was responsible for deciding "when exactly trains should run and where they should stop". But First blamed the DfT, saying: "The department provides the specification and we have to meet it."
A spokesman for First said that it would consider representations from communities affected. "We do promise to look in detail at each proposal, consider which we could introduce, and where we cannot change the draft, provide reasons why."
Stuart Walker, Devon and Cornwall secretary of the Railfuture campaign group, said: "We are deeply concerned that cuts in frequency will deter people from using the railway, allowing the Treasury to claim that it is no longer worth keeping branch lines open."
Adrian Lyons, director-general of the Railway Forum, the industry lobby group, said: "There is a hard-nosed view that the rail share of the transport budget must be reduced. Any service seen to have low patronage is now vulnerable."
Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, told the House of Commons this month that community railways were "in the last chance saloon".
He added: "I am pretty confident about the prospects for the railways, but to say that no network or service can ever change cannot be the right approach."
END OF THE LINE:
Saltash and St Germans 12 daily trains cut to 6
St Ives branch 26 trains cut to 16 in winter and 23 in summer
Looe branch 13 trains to 8
Newquay branch 7 to 4
Cornish stations to Plymouth 3 morning commuter trains cut to 1
Torbay/Newton Abbot and Totnes to Plymouth 4 morning trains to 2
Plymouth to Ivybridge 3 trains in evening peak to 0