abandoned uk railway tracks

£4.8bn railway reopening plan proposed to link disconnected communities

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The Government has been urged to invest £4.8bn in expanding Britain’s railways to “the most disadvantaged and disconnected communities” in a new report from transport campaigners.

The Campaign for Better Transport said that a national reopening programme would 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 report also found that it would create or safeguard up to 6,500 jobs in construction and engineering and 1,650 new railway jobs.

The group says the expansion would reach “well over” 100 council wards identified as disadvantaged and at £4.8bn it would cost just a fraction of the £55.7bn budget set for HS2.

A few specific lines are singled out as a priority for reopening such as March to Wisbech in Cambridgeshire which would link the large, relatively deprived town of Wisbech to employment, education and training opportunities.

It also recommends converting the freight-only Totton to Hythe and Fawley line in Hampshire to offer passenger services to Southampton, which would help to reduce air pollution and relieve pressure on congested roads adjacent to the New Forest National Park

A line connecting Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Northumberland would “significantly improve connectivity” for several large towns and allow passengers to access the Tyne and Wear Metro, the report states.

The campaign’s 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.”

About a third of Britain’s railway network, some 5,000 route miles, was given the chop as a result of the infamous Beeching Report in the 1960s.

Then, the railways carried about 975 million passengers a year, whereas the figure today is around 1.7 billion.

The reopening scheme would see about 350 miles added to the passenger rail network, consisting of 166 miles of reopened route and 177 miles of freight-only route upgraded to passenger rail standards.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said the scheme would ultimately pay for itself via the benefits it would generate for society.

“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,” he said.

“That needs to change because there is an overwhelming case for a Government-backed national programme of public rail reopenings to help meet the huge economic, environmental and social challenges facing the UK.”

In summer 2018, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was accused of cancelling rail projects in the North of England in favour of expensive HS2-related projects in the South.

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