Minister demands direct trains remain from resort
DIRECT train services between Weston-super-Mare and London could be maintained following intervention from rail minister Simon Burns.
North Somerset Council leaders and the West of England Partnership wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport earlier this month raising concerns direct trains between the seaside resort and the capital could be axed as part of plans to electrify the line between London and Bristol.
The £1-billion project, which could see electric trains running between Bristol and London by 2017, would speed up the journey by 12 minutes.
The line from London Paddington to Cardiff will be electrified, taking in Bristol Parkway station, along with the track through Bath to Bristol Temple Meads. Lines connecting Bristol Temple Meads with Bristol Parkway are also to be electrified.
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However, smaller stations outside of Bristol, such as Nailsea, Yatton and Weston-super-Mare, would continue to be served by diesel trains. The government has now put out the Great Western Franchise to tender.
Council leaders in North Somerset are concerned the project could mean the loss of straight through trains from Weston to the capital.
This would mean passengers travelling from the resort would have to change trains in Bristol for their onward journey.
Now Mr Burns has instructed his officials to secure two direct daily services in each direction from the companies bidding for the Great Western Franchise.
Mr Burns said: "I know how important improved rail connections are between London and Weston-super-Mare. This is why I have instructed my officials to secure two direct daily services in each direction from the companies bidding for the Great Western franchise.
"This is in addition to the planned five direct services each way across summer weekends already set out in the tender documents."
A recent Passenger Focus Great Western Franchise research survey revealed that 40 per cent of rail passengers were unlikely to make the journey if they had to change trains.
Currently a number of trains run direct from the seaside resort to the capital.
North Somerset Council executive member for highways and transport, Councillor Elfan Ap Rees, has welcomed the news.
He said: "As a major tourist resort and with a resident population of close to 100,000, through links to London are vital. We are very pleased that he rail minister has asked the companies bidding for the franchise to consider maintaining these links.
"We want some absolute surety as the process moves forward."