Before the health crisis, the Government acknowledged the "huge potential" of rail lines closed under the Beeching cuts, and launched a £500 million 'Ideas Fund' to look into reopening many of them. Today, the case for reopening rail lines is stronger than ever, not just to enable more sustainable travel, but to create jobs, tackle social exclusion and help the economy to recover.
In May, the Government announced the first 10 reopening projects to receive a share of the £500 million Ideas Fund. These included:
- Restoring passenger services between Leicester and Burton-upon-Trent. Reopening the Ivanhoe line would bring relatively large settlements onto the network as well as serving new housing; it would relieve pressure on local roads and support air quality objectives.
- Reopening the line from Totton to Fawley to passengers. This line would offer services to Southampton, improving air quality and relieving pressure on congested roads adjacent to the New Forest National Park.
Read the rest of the successful bids for the first round of the Ideas Fund.
Then in June, applications for the second round of funding closed. Fifty reopening projects applied, including:
- Reopening the station at Ferryhill in County Durham, with the potential to link north to Pelaw (Gateshead) and south to Stockton-on-Tees, improving regional connectivity.
- Reopening the Stratford upon Avon to Honeybourne line, which could provide rail services for large areas of new housing
Read the rest of the bids for the second round of the Ideas Fund. We'll find out which bids have been successful "by the end of the summer 2020".
All of the examples given above – and many of the other bids – are lines that we listed as top-priority in our 2019 report, The case for expanding the rail network. The report showed how reopening a disused rail line can transform an area, boosting the local economy, creating better places to live and reducing carbon emissions. Of course, all of these things are now more important than ever if we are to rebuild the economy after the health crisis in a way that is fair and sustainable.
To achieve a green recovery, the Government must prioritise infrastructure spending that will deliver a sustainable transport system. This includes pedestrian and cycle routes, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, bus lanes and transport interchanges. It also includes reopening rail lines and stations.
We're calling on the Government to set aside in the region of £5 billion for delivering a programme of rail reopenings. This could deliver at least 33 reopening schemes with 72 new stations and 343 miles of reinstated passenger service miles over 25 years.
As well as the economic benefits such a programme would bring, the human impact is significant. When we talked to residents of Low Moor near Bradford about their recently reopened station, they told us how it had changed their lives. One local resident said, "I can manage to take my disabled daughter to London", while another told us, "I use it every day to commute to work in Manchester, a job opportunity I wouldn't have been able to take without the station". A third said, "It's the best thing that's happened to our area in a long time".
Then there are the environmental benefits. With rail the greenest major form of transport (releasing up to 85 per cent less carbon per passenger kilometre than other forms of transport), enabling more people to travel by rail will be crucial to helping transport reduce its carbon footprint.
If you agree that reopening rail lines is important on environmental grounds, or you have other ideas for making transport more sustainable, why not respond to the Government's consultation on its Decarbonising Transport Plan? Our blog tells you how.
Support from the Government has been invaluable in sustaining the transport sector through the health crisis so far, but now it must increase its ambition and take a proactive and strategic approach to expanding the rail network to ensure a green recovery.
Photo above © Richard Humphrey (cc-by-sa/2.0)