Fifty years after the Beeching Report led to the closure of 5,000 miles of rail track, rail travel is more popular than at any point since Victorian times. Yet, despite hundreds of reopenings being proposed, few reach construction, due in part to the lack of national oversight with identifying and promoting projects currently left to local authorities and investors.
What we now need is a national programme of rail reopenings to bring former lines back into use to tackle regional inequalities and help disadvantaged communities up and down the country.
As the Borders Railway bears witness, reopening a railway can transform an area. It can support the local economy, expand labour markets, create better places to live and reduce carbon emissions. But despite numerous proposals and widespread support, reopening a rail line remains complicated and expensive with the result that very few schemes have been built.
A new Campaign for Better Transport report, The case for expanding the rail network, shows how this impasse can be overcome and identifies lines whose reinstatement could bring the most benefits.
Drawing on social, economic and environmental factors, our research recommends 33 priority reopening projects across England, Wales and Scotland. Together, these would represent an investment of £4.76 billion to £6.39 billion between 2020 and 2035 and would deliver:
- 500,000 people to within walking distance of a station
- 6,500 jobs
- 20 million additional passenger journeys
- 343 miles of passenger rail network
- 72 new stations.
To bring this to fruition we are also calling for a clear national policy on reopenings. This would set out the social, economic and environmental benefits that an enlarged rail network would bring together, and would be supported by a new assessment of value for money including both direct and indirect benefits and a streamlined implementation process.
Our report shows that can rethink our approach to growing the railways and change the fortunes of disadvantaged communities across the country.