A government fund is to be launched later to revive historic railway lines closed quite 50 years ago under the so-called Beeching cuts. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will visit Fleetwood to announce £21.9m for 2 railway lines and a replacement Stations Fund.
The £500m fund was promised within the Tory election manifesto in November. But Labour called the plan “meaningless”, adding that £500m would reopen just 25 miles of railway.
And the Rail, Maritime, and Transport union (RMT) described the funds as a “drop within the ocean”.
The government is giving funding to develop proposals for 2 historic railway lines – £1.5m to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland, and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire.
And communities are going to be ready to apply for a few of the rest of the £500m pot to revive their lines.
Roughly 5,000 miles of track was closed and quite 2,300 stations were axed within the 1960s, mainly in rural areas, following the Beeching report, which aimed to chop the mounting debts of the nationalized British Rail by removing duplicated routes and shutting the least-used branch lines of the railway.
This became referred to as the Beeching cuts. The plans drew huge opposition from rural local communities, which campaigned and successfully prevented some routes and stations from closing.
In his visit to the Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde line on Tuesday, which was closed 1970, Mr. Shapps is predicted to mention work is starting to “undo the damage of the Beeching cuts” by investing in transport links to assist local economies to flourish and make sure that regions “are better connected”.
People in Fleetwood, a town of 25,000 that’s hemmed in on the Lancashire coast, told us unanimously that reopening their defunct line to nearby Poulton-le-Fylde would be an honest thing.
They say their town has lost such a lot over the years and that they hope that restoring the railway would help regenerate the world and cut congestion on the roads.
The government is currently falling over itself to back policies that improve regional connectivity round the country. Just consider its bailout for the regional airline Flybe.
But today’s announcement is merely a tentative step towards recreating a functioning railway to Fleetwood. An assessment of the economic and social case will now be administered. The funding – £100,000 – is peanuts for now.
If the assessment is positive, the extra money will follow.
However, even £500m (the total funding pledged for reopening lines cut during the Beeching era) isn’t an enormous sum of cash in railway infrastructure terms.
Michael Byng, a railway construction consultant, believes reopening the Colne to Skipton line near Leeds would cost around £368m on its own.
He believes that reopening the line to Fleetwood, which does have a tram that runs along the coast to Blackpool, wouldn’t be money well spent and other options like improving the connectivity of the tram itself should be considered.
Commenting on the proposals, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “The Conservatives claim to possess been reversing Beeching cuts since 2017 despite not reopening an in. of track.
“Investing within the railway may be a fantastic policy but this is often meaningless without a significant funding commitment of billions of pounds.
“The timing of this announcement is additionally suspicious and seems designed to distract from the approaching collapse of the Northern Rail franchise.”Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT was similarly skeptical about the government’s plans.
“RMT welcomes any investment in our railways but £500m may be a drop by the ocean compared to what’s really required to attach our abandoned communities and reverse decades of cuts to infrastructure and maintenance,” he said.
“The initiative is to finish the chaos, profiteering, and fragmentation of privatization. anything is simply window dressing and nobody is going to be fooled.”