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Report calls for fund to reopen lines shut by Beeching

4 July 2012
Campaign for Better Transport is urging the Transport Secretary to back a programme of rail line and station reopenings as part of the Government’s forthcoming rail investment plans in a new report launched today (Wednesday 4 July).

Reopening Railways – the case for growing the rail network and how it can be achieved proposes a number of measures to promote new or reopened lines and stations to match growing demand and help relieve rail overcrowding and road congestion. Campaign for Better Transport has written to Justine Greening MP to urge her to include funding for reopenings in the ‘High Level Output Specification’, due to be published later this month, which forms the basis for the Government’s rail investment plans up to 2019.
 
The report calls on the Government to use the next round of investment in the rail industry to:
•    Introduce a Community Connections Fund to support new/reopened rail lines and stations
•    Support private-sector led reopenings, such as that proposed for Tavistock in Devon
•    Establish a reopenings support unit in the rail industry, led by Network Rail
•    Safeguard through the planning system the routes of old railways for future reopenings
 
Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive, said: “We believe that providing new or reinstated rail links and stations is the most cost effective ways of reducing carbon, improving quality of life for local people and helping the economy. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to create a ‘connecting communities’ fund which would complement the Government's intention to devolve responsibilities for local rail services to individual councils.”
 
The report comes in the run-up to next year’s 50th anniversary of the Beeching report, which led to the closure of hundreds of rail lines. Campaign for Better Transport believes the case for new or reopened connections is increasingly strong with demand for rail is at its highest level since before the Second World War and some of the fastest passenger growth on regional branch lines, making overcrowding a serious problem.
 
There are lines that have reopened since Beeching and passenger demand on many of these has exceeded original projections. For instance, trains on the Edinburgh to Bathgate line, which was reopened in 1986, now carry four times as many passengers as predicted; and the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line, reopened in 2008, now carries 1m passengers, 600,000 more than projected.
 
The report contains a number of examples of potential reopenings, including the 11.5 mile link between Skipton in North Yorkshire and Colne in Lancashire that would connect the socially deprived and depressed areas of North-East Lancashire to the more prosperous West Yorkshire area. Although under increasing threat, the trackbed is essentially intact and the railway could be restored at a relatively low cost. The Portishead to Bristol line, for example, has already been refurbished for freight use, but could be used for passenger services if the remaining 3.25 miles was reinstated. As one of the fastest growing towns in Europe, Portishead will be the largest town in the country without a rail link when the current house building programme is complete. The reopened rail line would help cut congestion in one of the most congested cities in the UK and fits with wider development plans from the local councils.

Tim Kent, Councillor for Whitchurch Ward Park in Bristol, said: “Reopening the Portishead to Bristol line is our key priority for the greater Bristol metro. This is our £100m investment plan into local rail to reopen lines and stations and provide far more frequent services. Carrying millions of extra passengers every year this will allow us to cut congestion, reduce carbon emissions and achieve economic growth for our region. We need an expanded railway to deliver for a modern economy.”
 
The Government has shown it is willing to back rail reopenings. The Autumn Statement included a commitment to the first part of the East-West Rail (Oxford-Cambridge) scheme, which when completed would link East Anglia with central, southern and western England and provide an alternative route for traffic from the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich. When completed the line could create up to 12,000 new jobs, stimulate growth, contribute £38m to the regional economy and support plans for further development in the area. However, part of the original route has been redeveloped, making the case for planning safeguards for remaining rail alignments.  

The report is being launched at an event at the House of Commons on Wednesday 4 July hosted by Iain Stewart MP.

Iain Stewart said: “Rail travel is booming in Britain and there are many lines that were closed in the Beeching era which may now be viable to open. Campaign for Better Transport’s report will be valuable in promoting the issue and I am happy to be able to host the event for them.”

Notes to Editors

1. Download Reopening Railways – the case for growing the rail network and how it can be achieved.

2. Campaign for Better Transport has put together a list of lines and stations that could be reopened. This is purely a suggested list and the business case for each would need to be investigated by the rail industry and appropriate local authorities fully. Read the full list of reopenings here.

3. Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).