MP's plea on direct rail service
A SCRAPPED rail franchise bid provides a 'wonderful opportunity' to ensure Torbay to London trains services are retained, Parliament has been told.
The Bay's Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders pointed out the now-cancelled 15-year franchise for the Great Western network had not guaranteed existing direct rail services with the capital.
The resulting delay caused by the contest being ditched opened the way to make sure this would be written into a future deal, he said.
Mr Sanders said: "It's the symbolism of having a direct rail service. It's important from a prestige point of view."
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His comments come as rail users in Torbay have voiced concern that direct services to Torbay could be left out of any new franchise and all travellers face having to change to half hourly shuttle trains to and from Newton Abbot.
With the ditching of the tendering process following the West Coast mainline fiasco, the existing operator First Great Western is due to continue running the network until September 2015.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Sanders said: "Is there not now a wonderful opportunity in this impasse to make sure any future franchise will ensure the second-largest urban conurbation in the far south west will retain direct rail services to London?"
Responding, Rail Minister Simon Burns said: "This is certainly an issue which can be considered when any future franchise bid is being prepared."
Earlier, when pressed over the collapsed franchise bid, the Minister said the department would enter negotiations with First Great Western to secure arrangements for a further two and a half years, to September 2015.
"These negotiations are now in progress," he said.
Dr Roger Dixon, of the Torbay Rail Line Users Group, who had urged local businesses and residents to lobby for the direct route to continue, said: "The scrapped competition for the Great Western franchise does provide the opportunity for Torbay to ensure adequate direct services between Torbay and London Paddington are written into a new franchise. Hopefully Torbay businesses and residents will lobby for this to happen.
"The Mayor and the local MPs have given the Transport Minister the strong business case for adequate direct services between Torbay and London Paddington.
"This is based on both the size of the resident population and the fact Torbay is a major UK resort with more overnight visitors than Bournemouth, Backpool or Brighton.
"Hopefully the fact local MP Adrian Sanders has joined the House of Commons committee on public transport will ensure Torbay gets a 'fair deal' within the Great Western franchise."
First Great Western said it had no current proposals to stop direct services to Paddington.