The Plymouth Seminar

18 March, 2019

At our seminar at the University of Plymouth, we explored with key local stakeholders how a fully integrated public transport network could be developed for the South West. With some exciting rail developments taking place in Cornwall and Devon, three impediments to the progress all stakeholders are seeking emerged:

  • The Cornwall integrated bus-rail service and ticketing plan – which has made huge progress – may not be able to achieve its aim of a truly integrated fares system. The reason? Interfacing a simplified local fares system across a diverse set of bus operators is feasible, but so far, incorporating rail fares, with all of the complexities of the national system, is proving a stumbling block
  • Regional connectivity by rail is fragile. A month ago, £80m was committed to raising the height of the sea wall at Dawlish (5 years after the major breach which led to the line being closed for two months). While largely welcomed locally, this is only the first part of the necessary measures. The full programme of remedial measures will not be complete – on current performance – until 2030 or later. The programme will be expensive, probably disruptive, and even then, the risks of weather and climate change disruption, while reduced, will remain. All agree that works on the existing line via Dawlish and Teignmouth must be progressed because of the the instability of the cliffs and the inevitability of sea level rises causing increased problems (along the sea wall and also along the Teign and Exe estuaries). But these actions are not enough to ensure the resilience of the South West’s rail network. At our seminar there was wide agreement that the solution needed – in addition to the programme of works on the existing main line – is the re-instatement of the second main line via Okehampton and Tavistock: the challenge will be to persuade Ministers, DfT and Network Rail
  • Local priorities are to get better rail services into Exeter and Plymouth – both expanding cities. But incremental local service development (Exeter-Okehampton and Bere Alston-Tavistock) may in practice impede the creation of the much needed second main line across Devon without a commitment and plan from the outset to full route re-instatement.

The solution to fares simplification and bus-rail integration may yet be found through negotiation with the rail franchisees and the Department for Transport. Possibly, the radical fares reform being considered in the Williams Review might prove a way forward. Indeed, the Cornwall (+Plymouth) integrated bus-rail network fares proposal could serve as a useful early test application of a radical change to national rail fares – extended to include connecting bus services – designed to restore public trust. See Creating a joined up public transport network in the SW