Transport operators take up slack

Updated: 

Winter weather Feb 5th

Flood-hit travellers in south west England are to get more flights and coach services and special rail fare offers to help them cope with transport difficulties.

The announcement of assistance came as Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin visited Dawlish in Devon where the rail has been wrecked by the severe storms.

On his visit Mr McLoughlin said he hoped train companies would reduce rail fares to those affected by the Dawlish devastation which is going to take at least six weeks to fix.

Later, the Department for Transport (DfT) said train company First Great Western (FGW) had put in place special ticketing arrangements so that rail passengers who are affected by flood disruption do not miss out on cheaper advance fares while revised timetables are put in place.

This means that passengers will receive a 25% discount on walk-up fares for journeys that cross the Dawlish area. If they have bought a more expensive ticket, FGW will refund the difference.

In the mean time, FGW is working to get a new train and bus timetable up and running as soon as possible so that advance purchase fares become available again.

It was also announced that airline Flybe would double, to six, the number of daily flights between Newquay in Cornwall and Gatwick airport in West Sussex from next Wednesday. This will provide more than 4,500 extra seats.

In addition, National Express, from Monday is running five extra services between Plymouth and Heathrow and central London.

On his visit to Dawlish, Mr McLoughlin denied the Government had been slow to respond to the flooding but said he recognised that people "were angry".

Speaking on Sky News, Mr McLoughlin said: "I hope the six-week target (for repairs at Dawlish) will be met. NR has some of the best engineers in the world. We will have to wait and see how we cope with the conditions expected tonight and tomorrow.

"Devon and Cornwall are accessible. They are not cut off at all. Some roads are under water and we won't know what state they are in until the water recedes."

Asked if the Government's response to the storms had taken too long and had been at the wrong tempo, Mr McLoughlin replied: "I don't think that's true at all. Nobody expected it (the bad weather) to go on as long as it has.

"I don't think you can say that the Government has not been focused on the issues. People are very angry and we understand their anger. They want things done more quickly but some of it will take longer than we would like."

Mr McLoughlin spoke to NR engineers working at Dawlish where a significant stretch of track has collapsed into the sea and where the NR teams have been cutting rails and sleepers away from the hole and removing them.

With around 80 yards of the sea wall destroyed, NR is using a concrete-spraying machine to build up a layer of material over the subsoil exposed by the wall collapse. This will be a sacrificial layer, to absorb some of the force of the storm forecast for tomorrow.

Work is going on to demolish the most damaged platform at Dawlish station, prior to rebuilding.

NR said it had mobilised a range of specialist contractors, engineers and suppliers from across the country to help with the work needed at Dawlish and has also taken up the offer of discussions with the Ministry of Defence to see if there is any help which can be provided by armed forces personnel based in south-west England.

Before Mr McLoughlin's arrival in Devon, business and tourist groups today called for more, and urgent, Government action to deal with the effect of the floods.

It was "high time the resilience of transport networks moved higher up the Westminster agenda" said the British Chambers of commerce.

And the Visit Devon organisation which is facing rail chaos due to severe track damage at Dawlish, said it was concerned for the county's tourism businesses.

British Chambers of Commerce policy and external affairs executive director Dr Adam Marshall said: "It's high time that the resilience of our transport networks moved higher up the Westminster agenda.

"For too long, businesses have been warning of key routes that are stretched to breaking point. In too many places across Britain, it takes only a single incident to cause chaos - as recent storms and flooding have shown. British businesses demand a transport network that can cope better with accidents, severe weather, and major events."

Carolyn Custerson, the chairman of Visit Devon, said: "We are concerned for our tourism businesses that have been affected by the recent storms, which has in some cases seriously affected their livelihoods.

"We are working to ensure that local and national government give maximum support to help them get them back on their feet and to ensure that our rail infrastructure is repaired quickly and that a long term strategy for resilience is agreed."

She said her organisation was committed to giving businesses as much support as possible and would work hard to help them with communications with visitors to ensure that everyone stays well informed.

She went on: "Our visitors can be reassured that the majority of our road networks are still open and that despite the rail damage there are good contingency plans in place to allow them to travel to their destinations."

In answer to the business and tourism concerns, a Department for Transport spokesman said: "The Government fully understands the importance of transport resilience. Planning for the impacts of extreme weather and climate change are a key part of the huge levels of investment we are providing in our transport infrastructure.

"The Highways Agency has assessed the potential risks that climate change presents and is taking actions to mitigate its impact. The Government has also ensured the rail industry embed climate resilience into its investment plans."

He went on: "Over the next five years more than £38 billion is being spent to improve and maintain the railways and Network Rail is continually developing strategies for securing the network's long-term resilience.

"We will continue to do everything we can to both tackle the urgent problems we face as well as protecting the UK's transport networks in the long term."

Places at most risk of flooding in Britain

Places at most risk of flooding in Britain