Borders Railway reopens – the start of a post-Beeching regional rail revival?

As the £294M Border Railway scheme reopens to relink Edinburgh to Tweedbank almost 50 years after the 50km line was axed by the Beeching review, Campaign for Better Transport proposes its top 12 lines that should be brought back into service next.

Borders Railways reopens

Locals were this week celebrating the long awaited reopening of the Borders Railway from Edinburgh, south to Tweedlebank, a route which reinstates a vital regional link with a network of seven stations. 

The £294M project was given life and funding in 2012 after local campaigning prompted a deal between Transport Scotland and Network Rail to restore passenger services. 

At 50km it is the longest domestic railway to be built in Britain for over 100 years and with trains every half hour will provide a one hour route into Edinburgh. 

Construction was delivered by Network Rail in partnership with Transport Scotland, The Scottish Borders Council, Midlothian Council, City of Edinburgh Council & BAM Nuttall. Consultants involved across the design process included Atkins, Donaldson Associates, Mott MacDonad, URS (AECOM), Fairhurst and Delta Rail.

“Filling in the missing links in our rail network offers the most cost effective way of alleviating congestion, reducing social isolation and improving economic prospects,” Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport

According to transport lobby group Campaign for Better Transport, this is just the latest in a series of welcome and hugely popular reopenings across the country, as part of an on-going regional rail revival.  

“Filling in the missing links in our rail network offers the most cost effective way of alleviating congestion, reducing social isolation and improving economic prospects,” said Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive, 

“Rail reopenings have huge local support, are good for business and can offer economically deprived areas a new lease of life,” he added. “You only have to look at the number of passengers using the new stations and lines to see how viable and popular they are and I am sure that the Borders Railway will be no different.”

The review of regional rail service by Dr Beeching in 1969 brought the axe down of thousands of kilometres on regional rail line across the UK. However, this situation is now being reversed – albiet very slowly – with schemes such as the route between East Lancashire and Manchester which opened in May this year, making rail services available to commuters for the first time in decades.

According to Campaign for Better Transport there is a raft of other routes that should, and with small amounts of funding could be put back into use and boost public transport use significantly across the UK. 

Its top 12 are highlighted here: 

  1. Ashington - Blyth - Newcastle: A victim of Beeching’s cuts, the line remained open to freight, meaning it would be relatively straightforward to reinstate passenger trains. Returning passenger services would significantly improve transport connections in a well-populated area in long-term economic decline. Northumberland County Council is supporting the scheme and reintroducing services will be one of the options in the new Northern Rail Franchise.
  2. Portishead - Bristol: Returning passenger services to the Portishead line would support this fast-growing part of Bristol's commuter belt. The rail link would help tackle road congestion and reduce an hour long car trip during rush hour to around 17 minutes by train. A potential site for a new station at Portishead has been identified and the reopening has now got funding as part of a wider Bristol Metro network, with completion by 2019.
  3. South Staffordshire Railway: Connecting Stourbridge, Walsall and Lichfield, reinstating this route would have both passenger and freight benefits. It would reduce road congestion and have the potential to make the controversial 'Brownhills Eastern Bypass' unnecessary, whilst allowing rail freight to bypass congested Birmingham and potentially remove heavy lorries off the roads.
  4. Leamside line: The 20 mile Leamside line in County Durham closed in 1991. The route has great potential for both freight and passenger services offering Durham’s 60,000 residents an alternative to the busy East Coast mainline and A1 motorway, and providing a freight link to the Nissan car plant in Sunderland. Reopening the line has been identified as a priority by both Durham County Council and the Freight on Rail campaign.
  5. Lewes - Uckfield: Reinstating this line would allow trains to run directly from west Kent and east Surrey to Brighton's economic and social hub, significantly reducing pressure on the congested road network. It would also offer a diversionary route for the Brighton Main Line, an important strategic element the network currently lacks.
  6. Skipton - Colne: Restoring 11 miles of track would create an additional trans-Pennine rail route linking the West and East Coast Main Lines and connect the socially deprived and depressed areas of North-East Lancashire to the more prosperous West Yorkshire area.
  7. Leicester - Burton-on-Trent: Re-establishing passenger services on this 30 mile stretch of line, currently used for freight, would provide 100,000 people with access to the rail network and reduce pressure on local roads. The line would also provide a tourist route through the National Forest.
  8. Fleetwood - Preston: Reopening the six mile line, closed to passenger services since 1970, along with two new stations would support economic regeneration in an area of 60,000 people and reduce pressure on local roads.
  9. Wisbech - March: With around 30,000 people living in and around Wisbech, it is one of the larger settlements in the country not on the rail network and its isolated position has contributed to its economic decline. Reopening the seven miles of line between Wisbech and March would enable access to the regional centres of Peterborough and Cambridge and support regeneration initiatives.
  10. Totton - Hythe: Closed to passengers in 1966, the growth of many of the towns on this seven mile line, and the resultant pressure on the road network, has created a strong case for reopening. To maximise benefit to commuters a direct link with services to Southampton via Chandlers Ford would need to be established. Reopening costs are not thought to be prohibitive as the line has remained open for freight, serving the Fawley oil refinery.
  11. East-West Rail Link: This would re-establish the rail link between Cambridge and Oxford and improve rail services between East Anglia, Central and Southern England. The western section of the scheme from Oxford to Bedford was approved by the Government in November 2011, with completion expected in 2019.
  12. Bere Alston - Tavistock  - Okehampton: This first stage of this line is already subject to a planning application and would link Tavistock with Plymouth and the national rail network, thereby enabling new housing while reducing traffic on the A386 and providing a tourist route to Cornwall and West Devon’s mining landscape. A second stage, reopening to Okehampton, would provide an inland alternative to the coastal route for trains to Cornwall.


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