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South West Rail Network (Flood Resilience)

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 17 January 2013

2. What discussions he has had with Network Rail on improving the flood resilience of the south-west rail network. (137493)

I had a number of conversations with Network Rail throughout December about improving the flood resilience of the south-west rail network. I also visited works on the west coast main line on new year’s eve, where I was able to discuss the issue in person with David Higgins, Network Rail’s chief executive.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Between the end of November and the end of December, Devon and Cornwall were effectively cut off from the rest of the country by rail for two periods lasting more than a week each. That is not acceptable for rail travellers or our economy. Will he impress on Network Rail the absolutely urgency of tackling the problem at Cowley bridge in Exeter, which is the cause of most of the problems?

The situation that people in the south-west faced over that period was unacceptable. It was the result of weather that we do not see often. I have talked to many Members who have made representations to me on that, and I have asked Network Rail to give a briefing to Members from those areas. That will take place in early February, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will attend.

Further to the point by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the Tiverton to Exeter line is extremely low and will be affected by flooding not only this year, but in future years. A substantial job needs to be done on that particular track of rail, so I urge the Secretary of State to do as much as he can to get Network Rail to put a package in place.

I accept what my hon. Friend says and I hope that he will come to the meeting I am organising with Network Rail, which I will also attend. I am trying to break it into regions in the parts of the area served so that Members can discuss their concerns directly with Network Rail.

There are two other important areas within the south-west that raise potential problems for the resilience of rail services. One is the rail line between Exeter and Honiton, which also floods, but most crucially there is the coastal route between Exeter and Newton Abbot, which for decades has required a great deal of maintenance. We want certainty about the future of the resilience of our rail services in the south-west.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), and I are aware of the problems affecting the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and the area he represents. As I said, at the meeting with Network Rail, we will be able to discuss in detail all the problems that Members are facing and—I hope—come to some solutions.