Campaigners have made a business case for investing £4.8bn in expanding the railway network with the aim of reaching ‘the most disconnected and disadvantaged communities’.
A new report from Campaign for Better Transport (CfBT), The case for expanding the rail network, sets out how a national re-opening programme could initially create 33 new rail lines with 72 new stations, allowing an additional 20 million rail passenger journeys a year by bringing over 500,000 people within walking distance of a train station.
The initial 33 schemes that met its criteria for investment based on their viability and social, economic and environmental benefits, should be prioritised. Examples include:
- March to Wisbech, Cambridgeshire – ‘re-opening this line would link the large, relatively deprived, town of Wisbech to employment, education and training and also serve the proposed Wisbech Garden Town of some 12,000 new houses’
- Totton to Hythe to Fawley, Hampshire – ‘this freight-only line should be converted to also offer passenger services to Southampton, reducing air pollution and relieving pressure on congested roads adjacent to the New Forest National Park’
- Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Northumberland – ‘this line would significantly improve connectivity for several large towns and allow passengers to access the Tyne and Wear
CfBT said this would also create or safeguard up to 6,500 jobs in construction and engineering and 1,650 new railway jobs.
Chief executive Darren Shirley said: ‘Expanding the railways would transform the opportunities for people living in some of the most deprived areas of the country, giving them greater access to employment and services and providing a much-needed boost to local economies.
‘The Government should invest in a nationally-led programme of expansion of the railway to help disadvantaged communities and tackle regional inequalities; reduce carbon emissions and air pollution; and create better and healthier places to live.’
CfBT said that 50 years after the Beeching cuts, although rail travel is more popular than at any point since Victorian times and despite hundreds of re-openings being proposed, few reach construction, due in part to the lack of national oversight with the task of identifying and promoting projects currently left to local authorities and investors.
Mick Cash general secretary of the RMT union, which helped produce the report, said: ‘For years politicians have been talking up the benefits of reopening lines but few reach construction due to a lack of a national approach and public investment.
‘That needs to change because there is an overwhelming case for a Government backed national programme of public rail re-openings to help meet the huge economic, environmental and social challenges facing the UK. These re-openings will ultimately pay for themselves via the benefits they generate for society.’