Monday, 13 May 2013

Call to reopen rail lines

Fifty years after the Beeching Report closed a third of the country’s railway network, campaigners are calling for 10 lines to be reopened, including four in the north.
Recruited by the government to make the railways profitable again, businessman Richard Beeching produced a plan that led to the closure of 2,128 stations, the loss of 67,700 jobs and passengers and freight abandoning rail for roads.
Although passenger numbers revived with the introduction of high-speed inter-city trains in the 1970s, and have further increased in the last decade, the number of railway stations is just over 2,500 - around a third of what it was in 1963.
Now, with the government committing £33 billion for a new high speed rail link – set to reach Leeds and Manchester in 2032 – the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) believes reopening lines would reconnect places currently not on the rail network, support regeneration, increase freight opportunities and improve journeys between major settlements.
Two of the 10 lines it has prioritised are Skipton to Colne and Fleetwood to Preston. Both were closed to passenger traffic in 1970. The former is 11 miles long and was first operational
in 1848. In 2003 a study on behalf of Lancashire and North Yorkshire county councils concluded much of the trackbed remained intact.
In 2008 the railway infrastructure operator Network Rail refused to provide £43 million for a single track or £81 million for a double- track line on the Skipton to Colne route. A local group, the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, believes reopening the line would create an extra trans-Pennine rail route linking the West and East Coast Main Lines. CBT believes the line also has the potential to help with the regeneration of currently depressed parts of north east Lancashire such as Nelson, Burnley and Colne. 
The Fleetwood to Preston branch line that starts on the Fylde coast would serve around 60,000 people via two new stations. With much of the track still in place the cost of reopening was estimated by Rail magazine in 2010 at £5.5 million.
The Poulton and Wyre Railway Society (PWRS) has long campaigned for the line to be re-opened. The society has been given a licence to clear the existing track and bring parts of it back into operation.
PWRS chairman Eddie Fisher welcomed the CBT support.
“We have completed a business plan and delivered it to all stakeholders, including Network Rail,” he said. “We will be re-opening part of the line from Poulton-le-Fylde – with a cross-platform interchange for ongoing trains into Blackpool North and Preston – to a new station, Fleetwood South, around one mile from Fleetwood town centre.
New station
“We are also exploring the costs of extending the line into a new station in the centre of Fleetwood. We will operate a commuter service and act as a heritage line to boost tourism. Initially it will be a standalone private railway and not part of the national network.”
Fisher said that although it would be “desirable in the future” to see a direct link from Fleetwood to Preston he was unable to say if the PWRS would be involved in the project’s management.
Rail policy expert Paul Salveson believes a reopened line has the potential to benefit freight transport because of Fleetwood’s thriving port.
Salveson, visiting professor in transport and logistics at Huddersfield University, believes the example of the Nottingham to Worksop line, which reopened in the 1990s, should be followed.
Economic case
He said: “That helped people in the former mining town access the job market in Nottingham.”
He added that Skelmersdale is another location that would benefit from the reopening
of its former station, where all services ceased in 1963. Following a feasibility study, Merseytravel has recently asked Network Rail to examine the costs of providing a rail link into the West Lancashire town.
“I think we have cross-party consensus that rail reopenings are a good thing,” said Salveson. “There has to be a sound economic case for any proposal. As long as the research involves speaking face to face with people about their actual travel plans, rather than just basing predictions on population size, then I am confident that in most cases this can be fulfilled.”

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