Posted 28th November 2017 | 2 Comments

‘Bold plan’ unveiled to expand rail network

THE government has revealed plans to expand the railway network with the aim of unlocking jobs and growth.

It says restoring capacity lost in the British Rail era could boost growth around key towns and cities. The latest plans include the commitment to accelerate the restoration of the rail link between Oxford and Cambridge.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said he wants to identify new transport projects that will unlock economic growth and housing development across the country, ease crowded commuter routes and meet future demand.

These could include rail services lost under the Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s where – if restored – these could aid housing developments or help create new economic opportunities.

The plans will be set out in the Government’s new rail strategy ‘Connecting People: a strategic vision for rail’, which will describe future plans for the network in detail.

Chris Grayling said: “Rail travel has transformed over the last twenty years and our railways are carrying twice as many passengers as they did before privatisation.

“Many commuter services are full and getting busier and passengers know how much pressure the network is under.

“We are already investing in the biggest modernisation of railways for over a century to help people travel more quickly and in greater comfort. But we need a new way of working to help our railway deal with the challenges it faces.

“We need to expand our network to unlock jobs and housing growth across the country. We’re already accelerating plans to reopen the railway line from Oxford to Cambridge. Now I want to see how we can expand other parts of the network to help make Britain fit for the future.”

Much of the present railway is operating ‘on the edge of what it can cope with’, said the DfT, ‘making it challenging to give passengers the punctual, reliable services that they expect’.

The DfT warned that all proposals will need to demonstrate strong business cases where they are seeking funding.

The Campaign for Better Transport, which has identified as many as 200 lines as possible candidates for reopening, welcomed the announcement.

The Campaign’s chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “Not so long ago, rail policy was about how many lines and stations should be closed. Now it's Dr. Beeching in reverse, with the Government looking at where lost lines can be reopened to connect communities and support jobs and housing.

“Today's announcement is great news for places across the country who were cut off by Dr Beeching, but it is desperately difficult to reopen a rail line. This announcement needs to be backed both with new investment and a commitment to guiding local authorities through the sometimes labyrinthine processes of the railway.

“The rail network needs to be not just bigger but better, too. That's why we’re urging the Government to rethink the cancellation of electrifcation projects. The Midland Main Line, Great Western Main Line and the Lakes Line should have a role to play in creating a high quality, low carbon transport network.”

The RMT was less impressed. The union’s general secretary Mick Cash said: “It’s more than a bit rich for Chris Grayling to talk about expanding rail capacity in the distant future when the reality is that today he is cutting back on rail electrification and staffing. This is jam tomorrow and cuts today and the public won’t be fooled by it.

“It is no good building new lines if no one can afford to travel on them. Fares are up by twice the rate of wages, with another massive increase due in January,  and it’s shocking that this announcement has said nothing about the affordability of rail fares, an issue that RMT will continue to campaign on.

“The reality is that it’s massive public investment in infrastructure through Network Rail, not the millstone of privatisation, that has fuelled the growth in rail travel.”

Reader Comments:

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  • King Arthur, Buckley

    The reality is that the vast majority of closed lines will never see trains again. Business cases only exist where towns are connected to major cities and the vast majority of these corridors have been lost to substantial redevelopment. Even in the rare case where an intact rail route does exist, the amount of difficulty returning passenger services to them passes understanding. Just look at Middlewich; a line runs through the town but yet after twenty five years of local campaigning and a strong business case, trains don't seem any closer to making a comeback.

    Then there's the eyewatering cost of new railway lines. The Welsh government are currently looking at reinstating the Camarthen to Aberystwyth line (which is 97% intact), and have estimated the cost to be somewhere in the region of 750,000,000. Who will agree fund this?

    Many mainline routes are already running at capacity and the addition of new feeder lines will necessitate further costly investment, which is not something any government is likely to commit to.

  • Christopher Jones-Bridger, Buckley

    Welcome words, yet again, but how long before being backed up by actions? Laudable reopening schemes such as Oxford to Bletchley, Tavistock, Portishead & the Blyth & Tyne have have kept the consultancy industry employed for many years as report after report has piled up at ever increasing expense. At the same time the likelihood actually seeing physical work commencing and services starting continues to slip into the ever distant future.

    I'm not holding my breath that this time a policy statement has been made that will see actions sooner rather than later. We've been here too many times with too many false promises.