RAIL RENEWAL FIGHT
Rural communities need more railways and stations - fast
A new report by the Campaign for Better Transport, The case for expanding the rail network makes the case for a national rail renewal programme starting with the reopening of 33 new rail lines with 72 new stations.
With many rural areas increasingly cut off, a public transport network of trains and buses is urgently needed to allow communities to access jobs and services. The report, produced with support from the RMT, has rightly been welcomed by Labour politicians but they remain highly doubtful about the Tories’ political commitment to revive Britain’s rail network.
Amongst the priority proposals are Northumberland County Council’s (NCC) plans to restore passenger trains between Ashington and Newcastle, with the 7 new stations on the 16 mile journey including Blyth, Bedlington and the small village of Bebside. The cost would be £198 million.
In February, NCC hosted Chris Grayling MP on a section of the proposed train lane. The transport secretary indicated he was supportive in principle of the proposals, but failed to make any funding commitments. This mirrors the situation over 20 months ago when his department published a strategy paper that backed reopening that was understandably greeted with scepticism by local Labour MP, Ian Lavery, who said, “there has been many false dawns over generations on this...what we want is the funding to make it happen.”
Grayling also visited Colne Railway station in the Pendle Valley, east Lancashire and said he was personally keen to reopen the 12-mile railway to Skipton, currently served by one hourly train. A feasibility study has already been concluded, though no money was promised towards the £104 million costs.
Pendle Labour Party backs the current Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership campaign to push Grayling into acting and has given a formal commitment that if Labour becomes the government it will reopen the Colne to Skipton line.
Labour’s Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, Azhar Ali, said, “We do need new stations. Labour would bring our railways into public ownership to enable fares to be capped and investment made to create a better, more reliable service. Pendle is badly served at the moment and we need a new government to improve things.”
Since the 2015, the Tory government has opened just 14 new stations. One of these was in April 2017 at Low Moor which serves the villages of Low Moor and Cleckheaton and is situated on the Calder Valley Line between Bradford and Halifax.
Campaigners now want to provide connections to Dewsbury, Gomersal, Cleckheaton and Heckmondwike. The latter three are small towns in the Spen Valley that lost their train stations in the 1960s. The 33 new rail lines, which would bring over half a million people within walking distance of a train station, would create up to 6,500 jobs in construction and engineering and 1,650 new railway jobs.
It will require £4.8 billion investment and whilst that is a worthwhile investment it is also the case that only a future Labour Government is going to put its money where its mouth is and invest in the railways.