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Improving the Weymouth to Waterloo rail line

Improving the Weymouth to Waterloo rail line
3 min read

Dorset South MP Richard Drax writes following his Westminster Hall debate which pressed the Government to consider options to speed up journey times between Weymouth and London Waterloo.

In its pomp, Weymouth's railway opened up the town already made fashionable by George III and his retinue. The early station buildings, designed by one of Brunel's assistants, sit yards from the resorts golden beaches. Visitors would flock to the sea and to the packet steamers bound for the Channel Islands.

Dorset's enviable combination of sea, coast and countryside still attracts millions of visitors annually, bringing a welcome, seasonal boost.

However, at the peak of the summer season, our roads struggle to cope and, while a motorway is neither desirable nor practical, the lack of connectivity makes living and working in Dorset problematic.
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The situation can only get worse; Portland Port plans to treble its HGV traffic, our marine and engineering firms are booming and the recently announced Dorset Green enterprise zone near Wool is expected to generate thousands of jobs.

To allow these ventures to achieve their full potential, we must expand our infrastructure and with the road situation as it is, that means rail.

Currently, Weymouth is served by two lines; a twice hourly service from Waterloo, which typically takes three hours, and a sporadic service to Yeovil and Bristol, which is best avoided.

Working with South West Trains, I have been investigating three alternative options.

The first option - running a third, faster train in each direction each hour on the current Bournemouth Southampton route would require more power, platforms and rolling stock, making it substantially more expensive. In addition, a bottleneck in the New Forest, combined with plans for major housing development, would make it virtually impossible for any franchisee to drop a station in order to speed up the service.

A second option of alternating a fast and a slow train each hour would badly affect those intermediate stations left out on a line already full to capacity.

The third and best option is running a new service, via Yeovil and Salisbury, to Waterloo. Most of the infrastructure is in place, requiring some new track, modest platform enhancements and an extended footbridge.

The cost would be modest in contrast to upgrading the 'southern route' through Bournemouth and could deliver enormous benefits, as follows.

Journey time could be reduced to 2 hours 25 minutes; over capacity on the existing line through Southampton and Bournemouth would be eased; some of the ample capacity on the Weymouth to Bristol line would be taken up; business opportunities and investment across the SouthWest would expand; and finally, we'd be connected at last to a vital east-west arterial line.

Estimates are that the work would take three to five years to complete, chiming with the Dorset local masterplan's aim of connecting the south and the north of the county by train for the first time in 30 years.

I, and many others, including local MPs, regional councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships believe that such an investment would have a dramatically beneficial effect on Weymouth and Portland and all the stations up the line.

That's why, yesterday, I asked the Minister for Transport to commission a study from Network Rail to investigate this idea further and also, to include it in the specification for the new re-franchising bids for the area.

This is an innovative and affordable plan, with far reaching benefits for my constituents and others and I very much hope the Government can make it happen.

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