In a letter to the Chairman of the South West RDA, Sir Harry Studholme, Jim Knight MP, the Minister for the South West, has given the strongest indication that the re-doubling of the Swindon to Kemble railway line may get the go ahead.
The letter from Jim Knight MP has been met with a guarded welcome by Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown who has spearheaded the long running campaign along with local councillors to secure funding for the re-doubling of the 12 ½ mile section of single track line which has produced countless headaches for commuters and businesses in the region.
On the 5th June 2008 the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) announced its funding plans for 2009 – 2014 and whilst there was good news that the Cotswold Line would be re-doubled, the Swindon to Kemble Line would not receive funding. Mr Clifton-Brown had met previously with the ORR to present the case for the improvement and when the project was not included he immediately called an adjournment debate where he was able to demonstrate the importance of the line for the regional economy and as a diversionary for numerous other lines on the network. During the electrification of the Great Western main line for example the Swindon to Kemble line will be the primary diversionary route. With numerous other rail projects due to go ahead over the coming years the MP was particularly concerned that if the scheme was not completed within the next 2 -3 years it would be out of the question for a further decade.
Subsequent meetings with the then Transport Minister Tom Harris MP and the current Secretary of State for Transport, Lord Adonis, First Great Western and Network Rail convinced Mr Clifton-Brown that the case had been made for the work – the challenge was finding the money. Following the lobbying campaign the Department for Transport committed £900,000 towards a feasibility study and £20m was put aside from the Regional Funding Allowance but this still left a funding gap. When the South West Regional Grand Committee met on the 3 September Mr Clifton-Brown raised the issue of the re-doubling again and challenged Jim Knight to produce one positive outcome from the committee.
As a consequence Mr Knight has now said that if the South West Regional Development Agency can produce “an agreed, realistic and deliverable five year programme” by November 16 then the funds that had previously been allocated to the Westbury bypass, which has been refused planning permission, could be re-allocated to fully fund the Swindon to Kemble scheme. However, the total cost of the scheme has not yet been fully costed.
Commenting on the announcement Mr Clifton-Brown said today “I have been only too pleased to devote much of my time to campaigning for this enhancement because I recognise how important it is to the Cotswolds and the wider region. All those from councillors to commuters who have lobbied for the improvement have managed to convince the decision makers on this scheme that the initial decision by the ORR was clearly wrong”
“However, the case is not yet closed and there remains much work to be done before the 16 November and I will be doing all I can to liaise with the South West RDA, the Department for Transport and Network Rail to ensure that this work finally gets the green light”
The news has been warmly received also by Gloucestershire County Councillor Barry Dare (Con) who commented that “Gloucestershire Conservatives have been fighting for years to get the Swindon to Kemble railway line re-doubled. If this news bears out it will bring a better, more reliable train service to the residents of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Stroud”
“We’ve worked hard for this not just because of the massive benefits it will bring to Gloucestershire’s train travellers but also because we know just what a boost it will bring to the regions businesses as they fight their way to recovery from Labour’s recession.”
Source: Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP Cotswolds