Investment in railways is crucial for business

Click HERE or see below to read my latest column in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald and Wiltshire Times.

Gazette Column 17 Nov 16Last week the Government announced that there was to be a significant delay in the electrification of Wiltshire’s rail links to the Wales, South West and London. The project which was planned to be completed by 2018, is set to pave the way for faster trains, better connectivity to communities, cheaper pricing and the potential re-opening of Corsham Station. Instead, due to the spiralling cost of modernising the Great Western rail line, which have reached an eye-watering £5.6 billion, according to the National Audit Office, the project has been ‘deferred’.

When governments spend public funds it is right that the value for money of the work is regularly reassessed and the benefits of electrification valued; but poor planning and failures in joined up thinking coupled with Network Rail’s inability to keep control of spending has led to unacceptable additional costs for the taxpayer.

I am just as annoyed and disappointed as the many constituents who have contacted me about this and I am going to reach out to the Government to push the case for electrifying the line as soon as possible. Governments simply cannot write blank cheques. There must be strong links between public investment, especially at such high cost, and enriching communities, towns and businesses. From my point of view, particularly here in Wiltshire and I think there is a compelling business case for electrification right now.

Since well before the election I have spent many hours commuting from Chippenham to London for work. I know from personal experience how costly train fares are and the financial strain that this can put on family incomes. The Great Western main line that serves Chippenham is the most expensive mile per mile route in the country and now we face delays on the improvements that would bring some better value for those high prices. We have been paying excessively high prices for a long time and should see the benefits.

Surveys show that high ticket prices are the main reason why more people don’t use the railways. Businesses and communities need investment in the railways in order to thrive, but high ticket prices put off travellers. Strong transport links are one of the most attractive features of doing business in Chippenham, with our station a stone’s throw from Wiltshire College and many top businesses and within easy reach of the town centre. The Transwilts rail line has transformed travel in Melksham, but there is still more to do to improve the links from the town centre to the expanding station. Bradford on Avon’s station is essential in reducing some of the traffic which often clogs the historic town and I remain absolutely convinced that a re-opened Corsham station will be transformational in rejuvenating the treasured town centre, reducing traffic and supporting local businesses.

If we are to tackle climate change, support our towns, back our businesses, give a fair deal to passengers and reduce congestion on our roads we need fairer train fares, investment in the railways is therefore crucial. I will be joining other MPs in making that point to the Government.

It would be amiss of me not to use the final lines of this weeks’ article to pay tribute to the life of Philip Glen. A local man, family and community focused, who has helped me over many years and who was also the father of Salisbury’s MP, John Glen. I know that he will be sorely missed by many in Lacock and Chippenham.