Posted 5th April 2010 | 17 Comments

LibDems plan major expansion of rail network

THE Liberal Democrats have published proposals to reopen a significant part of the former railway network, as part of new railway investment worth £3 billion. The party said it would be the 'biggest rail expansion since the Victorians', but the RAC Foundation has criticised the idea.

The party will set up a Rail Expansion Fund from which councils and transport authorities will be able to bid for money to pay for rail improvement and expansion projects.

This fund will come from cuts to the major roads budget.

Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Norman Baker said it would be a transformation.

He said: “Labour has allowed the railways to wither on the vine and punished passengers with huge fare hikes while more polluting forms of transport have got cheaper. All the while, the Tories have been sharpening the axe they will take to the transport budget.

“High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st century rail network Britain needs. Our plans will reopen thousands of miles of track across the country and make our railway great again.”

The list of lines includes reinstatement of the former Southern main line between Exeter and Plymouth, by closing the current gap between Bere Alston and Okehampton. Other places which would benefit include Ilkeston, Kidlington, Wantage, Corsham, Middlewich, Ashington, Blyth, Washington and Skelmersdale.

The party is also contemplating restoration of the remaining section of the Waverley route between Tweedbank and Carlisle, plus further electrification.

But Professor Sephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation responded: “To start cutting the roads budget to expand rail services is unlikely to be the best use of scarce taxpayers' money either in financial terms or by way of serving the vast majority of the population.

“The public liability does not just end once new lines are constructed. Rail services are heavily subsidised by the Exchequer.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • James barlow, sheffield

    The woodhead is good in principal, but the tunnels are now used by national grid because the government didnt stop them. Taken from expansion of roads is good but not maintenance. Maybe news jobs in rail may help the economy also???? They get my vote, hopefully a hung parliment.
    I fear if conservatives get in, many of lines mentionaed would disapear, sheffield lincoln sheffield huddersfield th list goes on.

  • John Miller, Doncaster, U.K

    Being a Ex Rotherwood Guard, I would fully support the re-opening of the Woodhead route, its 15 mins quicker to Manchester than going via the Hope Valley. I would guess Woodhead tunnel is in fine condition as I walked the full length twice while carrying out my duties, it was well lit & dry as a desert. The railway must play a major part in the movement of people & freight in years to come, I therefore fully support the reopening of any line, hence you get my vote

  • Chris Reynell, Longstock, Hampshire.

    “The public liability does not just end once new lines are constructed. Rail services are heavily subsidised by the Exchequer.” said the professor.

    Same with the roads, we pay for them through rates and taxes whether we drive or not. Some years ago it was reported that each car (or was it motorist) had a hidden £1000 subsidy per year if all the costs of highway building, maintenance, police, rescue, hospitals, death, injury and respiratory problems etc are factored in.

    Until a decent rail/public transport system exists, there is no alternative to motoring.

  • Alex McKenna, London, UK

    Now I know which to vote for :-)
    We've had the other two parties for long enough.

  • Tony Seaton, Southampton

    Stealing £3bn from roads is a bad idea. They arre in a desperate state and I have to drive through villages that should be by-passed.

    Why not take the money from the £5000 section 105 payments that developers pay per new house to non car transport. At present it is wasted on humps bumps and fake cycle lanes. All this street clutter is ruining our village

  • Llion Wynne Jones, aberdare

    Sound great, if this did happen there would be an economic boost, I mean you'd need more drivers, signallers, maintinece staff, guards all manners of different jobs, Just hope that if they do get in they keep to their word and realy boost the rail newtwork, oh and it would be good if they built the new rollingstock over here in the UK and not in foreigne contries.
    Great stuff

  • David, Reading

    About time!

    The ATOC report last year identified a good few routes that would be viable to open easily and that is just the tip of the iceburg. It is said that 2000 miles of what was closed should never have been closed and a further 2000 miles should have been protected for future generations.

    It would be quite simple to include many of these re-openings within longer train franchises, so to manage the costs and gain private sector involvement.

    There is also the French model where the railway is built & costs recovered from the operators.

    There are so many lines that should re-open, a list would be very long, but a list should be prepared to enable route protection. What about a bill to protect all disused railway alignments?

  • Derek Glenn, Leeds, England

    I think it is a step in the right direction. There is doubtless a case for reopening many lines as we have to strive to more environmentally friendly solutions to transport. However, the biggest issue in my book is how to get more freight off the roads and onto the railways; yet every time a new freight terminal or a strategic freight route (such as reopening the Great Central Line for continental size trains) is proposed, the nimbys always win after protracted and very costly public hearings. We have got to find a way of properly addressing peoples' concerns but ending up with a result that is good for the UK and in a much shorter timescale.

  • chris simpson, Dunford Bridge

    Re-open the Woodhead route. This surely gets my vote. Rememember this triumph of british railway building, double tracked, electricified and with a great loading gauge was shut by the tories in 1981....because they didnot invest in up-grading the electrics. Lesson "The tories are a party of Cuts" ie they get in I suspect Sustrans will be busy with Huddersfield-Sheffield, The Colne branch and the Waverley will so how disappear...

  • David Spencer, Bolton, Lancashire, UK

    The idea mooted by the Lib Dems is a good one and I support it. However £3 Billion is not enough to resource the Lib Dem plan. It will cost a lot more but it will be money well spent. However let us all not forget also that once lines are reopened there needs to be subsidy under the public obligation legislation. The final bill will be a lot more than £3 Billion. I urge the electorate to exercise caution when voting.

  • Terry Piper, Stockport, England

    To see a party offering expansion is better news than the likely cuts in funding that are most likely to occur with the other two parties. Further funds could come from the extension of franchises, this could be used to upgrade existing lines or providing new trains for the regions outside of the Capital

  • Gareth Miller, Chinnor, Oxfordshire, UK

    £3 Billion does seems very cheap considering just reopening the western section of the Varsity Line has been priced at £250 million, however if its a hung parliament then the Lib Dems are going to have some power which all in all will be a good thing for the rail industry as they are probably the most pro rail party.

    Clearly its not socially or environmentally acceptable to keep expanding roads ad infinitum, whether the funding for this plan is a good idea or not would depend if this is from a repairs or expansion budget, also I would like to say that not all rail lines are heavily subsidised, some train operators pay into the Treasury a premium.

    Can I add in an unrelated Crossrail suggestion, there has been much mention of there being more people travelling on the Eastern section compared to the West. How about fully reopening the High Wycombe - Maidenhead branch and running some trains from the Chiltern line into a bay platform at Maidenhead, this would provide an interchange to Crossrail from people coming from Birmingham, Warwick, Leamington, Banbury, Bicester etc and enable people travelling on the Crossrail/Great Western line to interchange for Birmingham. This would go some way to solving the imbalance of travel.

    Additionally on the Great Western branch to Greenford the line links upto the Chiltern line at South Ruislip. The Greenford - Paddington trains could start at South Ruislip (new bay platform perhaps) and Chiltern could run a better service to South Ruislip under the currently stated medium term plan to introduce another track. This again would provide link from the Chiltern line to Crossrails western branch. This would reduce pressure at Marylebone where the terminus is small and has poor underground connections and enable numerous quicker travel opportunities.

  • Geraint Griffiths, Denbighshire, Great Britain

    How can Professor Sephen Glaister (whoever this man is) criticise reopening rail routes? What planet is he living on? It's because of people like him that there's such a transport crisis in Great Britain at the moment.

  • Rob, Manchester

    If it's a hung parliament, I wonder how many of these pledges could Labour agree to take forward in a power sharing deal with the Lib Dems?

  • Rob, West Yorkshire

    Bring on the lib-dems. Sad thing is, they can propose all of these amazing ideas, safe in the knowledge that they will never get into power.

  • Joel Kosminsky, London, Britain

    Three billion seems cheap - does it include new rolling stock, stations, staffing and maintenance costs, and electrification? Are these single-track routes (which restrict service frequency) or full capacity double-track plans? Trains have to serve destinations of 'value' - passengers resist changing trains and connections across franchises aren't held - is there existing track and platform capacity to absorb new trains, and run them to somewhere useful? The idea is good but so was the not-yet-leaning Tower of Pisa - this needs careful analysis and practical support.

  • les Burge, leicester, england

    I Like the idea of using 3 billion of roads money for the railways but I think it would
    in most cases be better spent on further electrification and upgrading lines.
    Also further re-guaging work to get bigger containers off roads and also the possibility of double deck trains as on the near continent who we seem to lag well behind.