Monday, June 15, 2009

British train firms want to reopen lines axed by Richard Beeching 40 years ago

Train companies are proposing to reopen many of the branch lines closed by Dr Richard Beeching more than 40 years ago.

They say that the growing popularity of the railways, with passenger numbers up by half since privatisation, means that there is a business case for reopening at least 14 lines shut by the chairman of British Railways.

The Association of Train Operating Companies says in a report today that the case for reopening local stations has been strengthened by lack of parking at main stations and congestion on roads leading to them.

The report proposes spending just over £500 million to reconnect a million people to the rail network by giving them stations within walking distance. Lines would reopen only where they serve communities of at least 15,000 and where trains could run without any subsidy. It also calls for seven park-and-ride stations to be built on existing lines.

In addition to the 14 lines where the costs would be at least equal to the economic benefits, the report identifies 20 more lines whose reopening could be justified on employment grounds.

In some cases, the tracks are still in place, used by goods trains, such as the branch to Hythe in Hampshire, which the report identifies as having the best business case of the 14. Some others, such as the lines to Brixham in Devon and Rawtenstall in Lancashire, carry steam trains run by heritage groups. But some tracks have been removed and the lines converted to footpaths or cycleways.

The 14 lines include two sections of the National Cycle Network — at Cranleigh in Surrey and from Brockenhurst to Ringwood in Hampshire. The latter runs through the New Forest National Park and the proposal could face opposition.

The association says that the lines could be reopened within three to six years. It calls on the Government to begin immediately the process of safeguarding the routes and preventing any more development on them.

The train companies are not offering to pay for the reopenings, but say that much of the cost could be met by property developers in return for permission to build homes near the lines. The Kilbride Group has offered to pay for reopening the Tamar Valley line to Tavistock in Devon if its housing development is approved. Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary wants to expand the rail network but is focused on High Speed Two, to run initially from London to the West Midlands. The £10 billion-plus project is also supported by the Conservatives.

Case study

The railway line at Cranleigh, in Surrey, ran for 100 years before Dr Beeching closed it.

The single track line was opened in 1865 by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, connecting the village, via the mainline at Guildford, to London.

Dr Beeching’s report found it to be serving fewer than 5,000 passengers a week, with reduced revenues from freight traffic. The route was shut in 1965 and the track was removed. It is now a tree-lined path and cycle route.

The Association of Train Operating Companies wants the stations at Cranleigh and Bramley, which together have a population of 11,000, to be reopened.

These days, commuters to London have to drive or take a bus to Guildford or Godalming.

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