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Alternative Dawlish rail route would be 'a disaster for South Devon'

By Herald Express  |  Posted: May 01, 2014

RAIL CAMPAIGN:  MP Sarah Wollaston

RAIL CAMPAIGN: MP Sarah Wollaston

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CREATING a secondary, inland rail route to avoid Dawlish could spell 'disaster' for South Devon, says Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston.

Speaking at a meeting of Torbay Business Forum, the MP said she had been campaigning vigorously on the need to make sure the line at Dawlish was fit for purpose.

Opening an alternative route through Okehampton between Exeter and Plymouth would hit South Devon travellers and businesses hard, she said.

She said: "I don't think there should be an idea you can build resilience for our London links by building a relief line running north of Dartmoor.

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"I believe that would be building in disaster for the future of South Devon should there be another breach of the line at Dawlish.

"Because all you would see is a sense there is no urgency for repairing the line at Dawlish and that would cut us off here in South Devon."

She said she was also campaigning with other west country MPs for dualling of the A303.

She had also campaigned against plans to allow permitted development on Dartmoor.

The MP told the forum she did not regret her role in the case of deputy speaker Nigel Evans who was cleared by a court of sexual harassment allegations made by two young men in Parliament who had approached her for advice.

Asked whether she regretted suggesting they took their claims to the police after Nigel Evans was subsequently unanimously found not guilty, the MP said: "For anyone to suggest in that situation I should have done nothing and turned a blind eye would have been absolutely outrageous.

"I think when we look back at some of the real scandals over the past few decades, for example Jimmy Saville, the allegations about Cyril Smith, the small number of paedophile Catholic priests, we see what they shared was it was not that their victims did not tell people, but the victims were ignored and brushed aside.

"I think it's very important if we are to turn that kind of situation around that the people who make those kind of allegations are taken seriously."

She denied she had put any pressure on the two men to go to the police, nor did she give their details to the police.

She said: "It was a decision entirely made by them.

"Do I find it extraordinary that I found myself criticised for doing that? I do and I think in the same situation the people who would have questions to answer are the people who could possibly have turned a blind eye and done nothing when someone comes to them with a very serious allegation.

"However popular your colleague, however trusted, you must listen to people who report very serious crimes.

"It is for the police and CPS independently to make a decision on whether to bring charges."

She added: "It was never my job to be judge and jury about the initial allegations. It was to decide what to do with a credible report."

Asked whether members felt she had done the right thing, there was a round of applause from the room.

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  • Dave123Cook  |  May 01 2014, 11:41AM

    I have spent a long time studying the alternatives for a route into South Devon and into Cornwall, and have to admit, I agree with Sarah here. I personally hope that the preferred route comes out as a new line, through a long tunnel under the Haldon Hills. Ideally this would be single track, for just the few fastest trains between Plymouth/London and Torbay/London, and some of the Cross Country trains too. The reason for single track is it will cut the tunneling costs, making the route more viable, and will also maintain the importance of the existing line round through Dawlish and Teignmouth. If used to it's full potential, it will complement the existing route, not replace it, and could well come out cheaper than re-opening the old LSWR route through Okehampton and Tavistock. The problem with that route is that it is slow and twisty, and trains to Cornwall end up facing back to London at Plymouth. We already have bi-directional running between Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth, so a single track is not unprecedented here. Trains could take just 16 minutes in the tunnel, which could shave off a minute or so off the existing timetable, but more importantly, when trains are held up further along the line, the loops at the Warren are incredibly useful, but a long fast line will give more flexibility to every day services, more resilience to our rail service, and maintain the importance of the existing line through Dawlish. In an ideal world, it would be built with the space to double it, and a loading gauge that could accommodate electrification in the long term future.

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