Fifty billion pounds is a lot by anyone’s standard. It’s the amount of our money that the UK government is willing to spend on a highly controversial and disruptive project for which nobody voted, that is long on delivery and short on justification. Better to axe HS2 and reverse some of the Beeching Era cuts. So much more could be achieved for so much less than the cost of that grand folly. The devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have invested in re-opening schemes with considerable success – the same could be true of England if only the will was there. Many smaller rail re-instatements could, for modest amounts and quickly, make a big difference and bring considerable benefit to the populace of several areas.
The recent weather-related damage done to the rail link into Cornwall has highlighted the need to strengthen our existing rail infrastructure. For 1% of the cost of HS2, the inland alternative via Okehampton could be rebuilt.
The Avon Rail Link seeks to re-instate the line southward from Stratford-upon-Avon (currently a terminus) to Honeybourne Junction on the Oxford-Worcester line, to which it was once joined. Services could emanate from Paddington and give the Thames Valley direct access to this world-famous location.
Brighton Main Line 2 would see the re-instatement of the line between Uckfield and Lewes, either as a standalone project or as a component of a grander strategic route.
Moorland and City Rail is a Staffordshire-based initiative with nationally significant ambitions. It seeks to renovate the abandoned lines centred on Leekbrook Junction. The aim is to reconnect the town of Leek to the national railway system, take quarry traffic off the local minor roads and, perhaps, most importantly and lucratively, provide a badly needed alternative means of reaching Alton Towers Theme Park.
Peak Rail wants to re-instate the missing Matlock-Buxton section of the mainline through the heart of the Peak District to relieve the very busy A6, which, because of the topography and the protected status of the area, cannot be easily bypassed.
Another venture is attempting to re-open the line from Penrith to Keswick in the heart of North Lakeland and bring relief to the area’s road system. It has an uphill battle with an unsympathetic local authority which allowed a local company to build on the track bed.
SELRAP seeks to re-instate the 11 miles of line between Colne, Lancashire and Skipton, Yorkshire, linking cities and regions across the north. As of the August 2013 the Campaign has, according to its website, the support of 891 organisations, 754 individual politicians, 500 members and 67 affiliated groups but getting money from the DfT to fund this has thus far failed.
The South Staffordshire line, mostly intact but with sections out of use, runs from Lichfield to Stourbridge via Walsall. If re-opened throughout to heavy rail, it would create an array of new journey opportunities, linking the East Midlands directly with the southwest, thereby avoiding Birmingham and freeing up capacity at that major railway hub.
The volunteer led Swanage Railway started life as a local initiative with a founding principle of restoring the line closed by BR in 1972 and returning a proper scheduled public railway service between Swanage and Wareham. After 40 years of hard slog and fundraising, it has matured into an award-winning heritage railway. Now backed by the Purbeck Rail partnership, it intends to begin a limited trial service in 2015. It could stand as a model for other community rail ventures.
London isn’t just the UK’s capital city; it is a world city of capital. A few months ago Evan Davis, the BBC’s economics’ editor, fronted a two-part documentary entitled ‘Mind the Gap’. He compared the powerhouse that is London with the rest of the UK. One thing became clear; London is where money, entrepreneurs, ideas and businesses want to be, so much so that its population increases by 2,000 per week and cash-rich foreign buyers are contributing to the escalation of house prices by purchasing property for investment purposes. The conclusion of the programme must have caused dismay for anyone believing HS2 would help the regions. It will only do what many other high speed rail projects elsewhere have done and simply make it easier to reach this country’s engine of growth.
Photo by Timelapsed