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Dorset Council sends letter to Transport Minister regarding reduced rail service

The following letter has been sent to Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Minister of State at the Department for Transport (DfT), regarding recently-announced reduced rail services and planned engineering works that will impact visitors to the Dorset coast this summer.

Cllr Ray Bryan, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, writes:

“Dear Mr Heaton-Harris

Reduced Rail Provision in Dorset

We are writing to express our concerns about the much-reduced rail service in Dorset provided by South Western Railway.

Prior to the pandemic we had 2 trains per hour (tph) running between Weymouth and Waterloo, one fast, one stopping. During the pandemic this was reduced to 1 tph plus a shuttle between Weymouth and Bournemouth to allow connection to other services. This has now been reduced to 1 tph between Weymouth & Waterloo.

We are sympathetic to this as a temporary measure whilst the rail industry recovers after what has been a period of turbulence in unprecedented times, we do not consider it to be appropriate or acceptable in the longer term.

This summer we are anticipating higher than average levels of tourism in Dorset as the government promotes and encourages holidaying in the UK this year. We are concerned that the reduced rail service will mean that more tourists will resort to travelling to Dorset by car, something that does not match with the national commitment to reducing traffic in both the Dorset Council area and also the much wider area in order to meet the local and central government’s national climate emergency agenda. Getting cars and trucks off the road is essential to both our objectives, reducing services at a time when we have the opportunity to persuade people there are alternative ways to travel is counter productive. We are happy to work with all forms of public transport to find ways of improving footfall.

We are also extremely perturbed by the effect this could have on our economy by reducing the opportunity for our residents to access employment, education and healthcare provision in the BCP conurbation.

As a local authority we are very supportive of rail services within Dorset by encouraging new residential and employment developments to be sited close to the railway and our active participation in Community Rail Partnerships to increase patronage of the railway. We are also working with Network Rail on their Dorset Strategic Study so as to identify the infrastructure improvements necessary to achieve long held aspirations of a Dorset Metro service (a higher frequency shuttle service across the wider South East Dorset area), amongst other improvements, which would mean additional rail services in the Dorset Council area.

As a matter of urgency, we would ask you to reconsider the current plans and at least give us the level of rail services provided over the past few months as a temporary measure before reinstating the two trains per hour as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Ray Bryan

Cabinet Member for Highways, Travel and Environment

Cabinet member for Climate and Ecological Emergency

St Leonards and St Ives Ward.”

A copy of the letter was also sent to Chris Loder MP, Richard Drax MP, Michael Tomlinson MP and David Glinos at the Department for Transport. We will publish the response from the Minister as soon as we receive it.

Paul Appleby
Author: Paul Appleby