For both passengers and freight, rail is a high-quality national transport network that can give people access to a wealth of social and economic opportunities. It can support local economies by expanding labour markets and encouraging new investment and development. It can help tackle regional inequalities by making economically disadvantaged parts of the country more attractive for investment. It can help create better places to live by relieving road congestion and pollution, and reducing carbon emissions. And the railways can support the national economy by directly creating and maintaining high skill employment.
Given these benefits, it is unsurprising that the clamour for new and reopened rail lines has been widespread and consistent for many years, as has the idea of a national fund to support reopenings. We have produced numerous reports and briefing papers on the benefits of expanding the rail network, and last year we produced a detailed report, The case for expanding the rail network, which identified 33 priority lines and stations which should be reopened first as part of a national programme.
The £500 million fund announced at the beginning of the year to help develop new proposals for reopenings and to accelerate the delivery of schemes that are already in progress, is undoubtedly very welcome and will help to kick start a number of reopenings around the country.
The pot also includes a third round of the New Stations Fund - a fund we helped create - to support both the development of new stations and reinstate former ones. Stations that have benefited from previous rounds include Horden in County Durham, Warrington West in Cheshire and Green Park Station in Reading. All three of these stations were built to serve new housing, helping give the areas a much needed economic boost and reducing car dependency for local people.
There are plenty of successfully reopened lines and stations that have spurred on local campaigners around the country, successes like the Borders Railway. Reopened in 2015, 63 years after it was closed under Beeching, the 30 mile Borders Railway connects the city of Edinburgh with Galashiels and Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders. With seven new stations and trains running every half hour, the line was the longest new domestic railway to be constructed in Britain for over 100 years. In the first three years of operation, four million journeys were made and a significant modal shift was reported, with 61 per cent of passengers questioned stating that they previously made their journey by another mode. Of these, 64 per cent reported that they previously drove all their way to their destination, resulting in approximately 35,800 saved single car trips. Additionally, 71 per cent of tourists said that the re-opening of the line had been a factor in choosing to make their trip, and a quarter stated that they would not have made the trip had the line not been in place. The Borders Railway has also influenced people's residential and workplace choices, with nearly 17 per cent stating that they had moved house since the re-opening of the line, of which 58 per cent said that the reopening of the railway was a factor in their decision, and 52 per cent of people who had changed jobs stated that the re-opening of the line had been a factor in their decision.
Prior to the reopening of its railway station in 2017, Ilkeston in Derbyshire, had the dubious honour of being the largest town in England to have an active passenger railway line passing through it, without a station to service it. The new station was opened with funding from the government’s New Station Fund and it was predicted 120,000 people would use the station a year; last year 253,000 people used it, more than doubling the original forecast.
Lea Bridge Station in East London reopened in 2016, 31 years after it had closed. Transport for London (TfL) estimated the station would generate 352,000 entries and exits annually by 2031, in fact the station surpassed this number last year, with 389,000 entries and exits, 13 years ahead of schedule.
We are now at the point where a consensus exists for growing the country's rail network, and with the UK Government's commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, now, perhaps more than ever, is the need to expand the rail network so that it can play an even bigger role in reducing emissions from private vehicles.
The £500 million is a great start, but bearing in mind we estimated the cost of reopening our 33 priority lines and stations to be £4.8 billion, there will need to be further Government support if we are to truly begin to reverse Beeching's legacy.