Two years after his predecessor announced plans to reverse some of the massive Beeching cuts to rail lines, Grant Shapps has invited local authorities and community groups to bid for schemes.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said the transport secretary has invited MPs, local authorities and community groups across England to come forward with proposals on how they could use a share of £500m new funding to reinstate axed local services.
The Cannington viaduct on the disusedSeaton to Lyme Regis line
Many in the sector have criticised the £500m total amount, suggesting it will not go far in reversing the loss of 5,000 miles of track in the 1960s and could end up being very thinly spread.
The cash appears to be seed funding rather than capital investment, which would need somewhere in the hundreds of millions for a few miles of line.
Officials said the cash will ‘help develop’ local proposals, and ‘accelerate the delivery of schemes that are already being considered for restoration, making possible the rapid reopening of certain stations and lines’.
They added that ‘to launch the reversal scheme’, the Government is giving funding to develop proposals for reopening two lines ‘in the near future’ – £1.5m to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland, and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire.
The Strategic Vision for Rail, launched by former transport secretary Chris Grayling in November 2017, stated capital funding from the Government would be relatively small scale and that in expanding the network ministers wanted ‘a renewed focus on unlocking funding from developers and other potential beneficiaries’.
Mr Shapps said: ‘Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.
‘Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half a century of isolation is undone.’
Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport secretary suggested that the cash would reopen just 25 miles of railway.
He said: ‘The Conservatives claim to have been reversing Beeching cuts since 2017 despite not reopening an inch of track. Investing in the railway is a fantastic policy but this is meaningless without a serious funding commitment of billions of pounds.’
Ms McDonald added that the timing of the announcement was ‘suspicious…and seems designed to distract from the imminent collapse of the Northern rail franchise’.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Shapps confirmed that an announcement on Northern would be made by the end of the week. Presenter Dan Walker subsequently tweeted: ‘We are expecting news tomorrow.’
The Government also announced a fresh round of the New Stations Fund, worth £20m. Officials said two previous rounds scheme have helped develop 10 brand new stations across England and Wales.