Fairness in Rail Expenditure

Baroness Susan Kramer visited St Austell on 22 January 2015, where the government has spent £2.5million on a new station footbridge, accessible lifts, refurbished waiting room, toilets and improved shopping facilities (so that’s the important stuff dealt with, then!). She was joined, among others, by representatives from First Great Western, Network Rail and Devon & Cornwall Rail Partnership — we can guess who paid their (first class?) travelling expenses.

Whilst I appreciate that accessibility for all is important, I should like someone to explain why they can spend £2.5m on one station whose footfall in 2013–14 was little more than that at Barnstaple alone — 461,194 vs. 384,234 — yet nobody seems able to find the much smaller sum necessary for one or two more carriages on all the trains on the Barnstaple line so that passengers can actually get on the trains, never mind find a seat. Or doesn't that count as accessibility?

An NDPTU member responds:

I used St Austell a few years ago to visit the Eden Project and didn’t notice any shortcomings, apart from the lack of a wheelchair friendly foot bridge.

I think there are a number of reasons why glamorous station projects take priority over the need for more train carriages.

Firstly, Cornwall is much more generously provided with European money than neighbouring “rich” Devon. Static infrastructure is easier to plan and provide than ongoing services.

Peak time overcrowding is a national problem and worse in the South East than in the South West. It’s very expensive to provide capacity which is only used at peak times. It’s even more expensive when all rolling stock is owned by big banks and leased to operators at exorbitant rates, which inevitably need public subsidy.

The Barnstaple line is further disadvantaged by the inefficient use of stock to provide bespoke services to mid Devon halts, so it is likely to remain at the bottom of the pecking order.

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