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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 15:51 GMT
Bridge closure 'threatens tourism'
Royal Albert Bridge
Isambard Kingdom Brunel's bridge needs repairs
The historic bridge that links Cornwall with the rest of Britain's rail network is to be closed for three days over a busy holiday weekend.

Railtrack says Easter was chosen by train operators as the best time to shut down the Royal Albert Bridge, between Plymouth and Saltash.

But the chief executive of South West Tourism has called the decision "crazy".

St Ives MP Andrew George is to raise the issue in a special debate in Westminster on Tuesday.

And Transport Secretary Stephen Byers will be asked to overturn the decision when he returns from holiday in the Far East.

The more difficult the journey, the more likely you are to discourage people from coming.

Malcolm Bell, South West Tourism
New timbers must be fitted to support track on the Grade I listed bridge, considered to be the greatest railway work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The closure will take place from 0620 GMT on Saturday 30 March and continue until 1350 on Easter Monday, 1 April.

It will not affect people travelling to Cornwall on Good Friday and leaving after lunchtime on the Monday.

Buses will carry passengers between Plymouth and Liskeard, where trains will continue to run within Cornwall.

Tourism losses

A second closure is scheduled for two weeks later, from 13-15 April.

There are fears the closures could cost the Cornish tourism industry up to 1.8m.

Cadwith, Cornwall
Easter is the start of Cornwall's tourist season
Trains normally bring thousands of tourists to Cornwall over Easter.

The detour is expected to add at least 30 minutes to every journey - more if buses are caught up in holiday traffic.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of South West Tourism, said: "This is crazy. The date of this closure could not be worse.

"I am absolutely gobsmacked by the timing of this, following as it does a year when the Easter tourist trade was hit by foot-and-mouth disease.

Saving money

"The more difficult the journey, the more likely you are to discourage people from coming."

Matthew Taylor, Liberal Democrat MP for Truro and St Austell, said: "They have managed to maintain the bridge over the Tamar in the past without closing it.

"This is a way of them doing the work as cheaply as possible without having to work around the trains."

A Railtrack spokeswoman said: "We have done a lot of liaison with the train operators. This was the time they came up with.

"This is for essential maintenance work on an old and famous railway bridge."

The Royal Albert Bridge, opened in 1859, was the first to cross the Tamar at Plymouth.

Click here to go to Devon
See also:

04 Jan 02 | England
New York inspired by Tamar Bridge
27 Sep 01 | England
'Appalling year' on West trains
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