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Reopening Railways:


the case for growing the rail network and how it can be achieved


Richard Hebditch, campaigns director at the Campaign for Better Transport, says that now is the time for line reopenings. N


ext year will be the 50th anniversary of the infamous Beeching Report,


Reshaping British Railways, which led to the closure of many rail lines.


Beeching’s report was influential in informing thinking, too. For much of the second half of the last century, the railways were seen as a static or declining form of transport. Closures and ‘rationalisation’ were the focus of rail policy, and even when the railways were privatised in the 1990s, it was assumed that the rail market would be at best static.


Demand for rail travel has ignored this prognosis. Passenger numbers have steadily increased through the 1990s, and are now at their highest level since the 1920s. Fifty years on from Beeching, not even our current economic woes have stopped the growth. Beeching removed lines and stations that would now be valuable in economic, social and environmental terms. With overcrowding on many lines, and half a century of changes to living and working patterns the railways need reshaping again. A new Campaign for Better Transport report (see link at bottom) shows how to undertake the task.


There are many enhancements to the network that could be made. These fall into three main groups:


- New lines to serve communities that are not


on the rail network, for example Tavistock in Devon - Reopened or new stations on existing lines, for example Ilkeston in Derbyshire - Putting in place missing links, for example Skipton–Colne or Lewes–Uckfield


If the case for a larger network is strong, and an initial tranche of beneficial locations is relatively easy to spot – particularly to those on the ground – why are the improvements so slow to come forward? The simple answer is that there is no single process for making them happen.


For all schemes, there is the issue of turning something which appears a good idea into a properly appraised project. The rail industry lacks a clear process for assessing, pursuing and sponsoring reopening projects. In particular, established demand modelling is designed for assessing enhancements to existing services – they are not good at modelling projected use on new lines or stations.


Nationally, the Government can use the franchise system to pursue new or reopened lines or services. It has sometimes done this, for example in reopening the line to Corby as part of the East Midlands franchise or the option of reopening the Portishead line to passenger traffic in the new Great Western franchise. It can also commit to including new lines or stations in future franchises, as it has recently


done with Chesterton Station in Cambridge. However, it has used these approaches sparingly, preferring to focus on upgrading and electrifying the existing network and on big enhancement projects.


For local government, Westminster is offering support to authorities who wish to take on responsibility for commissioning local rail services. This should make reopenings simpler, but unlike with road schemes, authorities often lack expertise to consider and the finance to afford support for reopenings.


So what is the way forward?


We are proposing that local authorities, rail user groups and the industry work together with the Department for Transport to develop proposals that have the best strategic and business case. There should also be a fund to support rail reopenings, building on the new stations fund announced as part of the High Level Output Specification (HLOS). This fund, which we have termed the Community Connections Fund, could be bid for by local authorities, like the very successful Rail Passenger Partnership Fund, run briefly by the former Strategic Rail Authority, or more recently the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF).


Together, these two steps could significantly enhance the network by identifying and overcoming anomalies. The case for reopenings or new connections is not based on nostalgia for some imagined golden age of the rail but on meeting the need to provide congestion free and low carbon transport choices.


Many local authorities, business groups and communities recognise this and are


pursuing reopenings, but there is no process for considering these systematically or taking them forward.


FOR MORE INFORMATION


‘Reopening Railways: the case for growing the rail network and how it can be achieved’ is available at www.bettertransport.org.uk/ files/reopening-railways-report.pdf


152 | rail technology magazine Aug/Sep 12


Richard Hebditch


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