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West rail partnerships under threat

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: October 05, 2013

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Two community rail partnerships which have played crucial roles in improving rail services and infrastructure across the West are under threat.

Somerset County Council is considering withdrawing from the Heart of Wessex and Severnside community rail partnerships.

Each is composed of stakeholders and other interested parties including local authorities, rail companies and Network Rail.

Since being established by the then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling they have achieved many improvements at stations and elsewhere and undertaken vital promotion of rail routes.

The Heart of Wessex Line follows an 87-mile route through Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire, Bath and Bristol, with about half of the trains also running through to Gloucester.

The Heart of Wessex Community Rail Partnership has helped transform the Bristol-Weymouth line from its infamous "Cinderella" status, producing a guide to the entire route and a business case for increasing capacity.

Transport campaigner David Redgewelll said yesterday the partnership could collapse if the county council pulls out, and both partnerships would be severely disabled by the move.

Fellow campaigner Norman Browne, of Yeovil, said the decision looks set to be taken at a private meeting between October 28 and November 5, depriving the public of any say since the Public Transport Forum is not due to meet until after that date.

"This is of great concern. The community is not being given a voice on this. Somerset County Council does not seem to care about public transport," he said.

Somerset County Council contributes £5,528 a year to the Heart of Wessex partnership.

The Severnside Partnership covers the network of routes radiating from Bristol, bounded by Gloucester, Bath/Freshford, Weston-super-Mare, Taunton, and the Severn Estuary including the branch line to Severn Beach.

Its main aim is to encourage the use of local trains on routes radiating from Bristol; to ensure that access to local stations is easy and that stations provide a safe and welcoming environment and bring passenger benefits.

Both partnerships have achieved substantial improvements for passengers including investment in stations at Yeovil, Castle Cary, Freshford and Bradford on Avon.

Mr Redgwell said: "If local authorities don't support these partnerships it is very difficult to say to the Secretary of State that we are serious about investment.

"We are very concerned that Somerset are apparently considering pulling out of a rail investment programme and partnerships."

A Somerset County Council spokesman said: "We have discussed the issue with the rail partnerships and will be considering their views and concerns before making any decision.

"With the Government cutting back on our income and rising demand for some of our vital services, we are having to prioritise the money we spend by redirecting what can be afforded towards essential services such as looking after vulnerable children and adults."

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