Gazette & Herald Column: Passenger service on MoD rail line may cut queues

Our Constituency covers a big area encompassing 3 towns, 115 villages and a lot of Salisbury Plain, so I try to move all around my “patch” on Constituency days to make it easier for people to come and see me. Last week I was in Ludgershall for a busy day of advice surgery appointments, a meeting with the Federation of Small Businesses and a roundtable with a multi-faceted group reviewing the case for opening a passenger service from Ludgershall to Andover on the railway line currently used by the MOD. With so many houses being built in Tidworth and Ludgershall, substantial business and MOD development in the area and increasing congestion on local roads and the A303, there could be a very interesting business case for an hourly shuttle service, and it was great to dust off my railway knowledge and put it to work on a local project – one of several being analysed in Wiltshire. Our excellent Local Economic Partnership are about to launch a rail strategy review so it is a good time to be pushing these projects forward.

My Constituency is also home to a very large number of serving and former Armed Forces personnel, and in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday I am especially aware of the responsibilities that this brings. I am particularly concerned with the ongoing issue of historic investigations of Northern Ireland veterans, which as I have said previously has all the appearance of a political witch hunt. My superb neighbouring MP Richard Benyon has proposed a time limit on these historical allegations, and while I am told there are technical issues with this proposal, I completely support the principle and have been in touch with the new Defence Secretary to ask his views. This Sunday I will be laying my wreath at the Marlborough Remembrance service, and this week I had an advance moment to consider the immense importance of this day when I walked past the Field of Remembrance on the lawn of St Margaret's Church between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. Organised by the Royal British Legion, the area is marked out with 250 plots for regimental and armed services associations, into which wooden tokens, usually crosses, are planted by a group of volunteers in remembrance of someone who lost their life while serving our country. The packed rows of little crosses and the sound of thousands of little taps as the crosses are planted are an incredibly moving reminder of the debt we owe to so many for the freedoms we enjoy today.