United Kingdom

Tories pledge £500m to reopen Beeching lines

Ministers have pledged £500million to reopen closed railway lines in the North of England.

Lines earmarked for restoration include many which were axed in the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s.

Dr Richard Beeching, then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network - mainly branch lines - in an efficiency drive.

One of the first lines to reopen will be the Ashington and Blyth Valley to Newcastle connection - benefiting the Blyth Valley seat won by the Tories after 69 years under Labour.

Dr Richard Beeching, (pictured) then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network - mainly branch lines - in an efficiency drive

Ministers are also working to reopen the track linking Blackpool and Fleetwood.

The Transport Secretary will announce the plans on a visit to Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde in Lancashire today.

He said: 'Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.

'Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half a century of isolation is undone.'

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: 'This is an exciting moment as we look to revitalise our railways, reconnect communities and reinvigorate our country.

A map showing the British Railway network before and after the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s

Dr Richard Beeching, former chairman of British Railways, with driver Herbert Griggs at Haywards Heath Station on the Bluebell Railway in Sussex on April 1, 1962

The government is funding proposals re-opening 2 lines in the near future: £1.5 million to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland, and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire. Last the government mooted proposals for opening new rail lines in 2017 they suggested 12 that could re-open (pictured)

'Local MPs, councillors and community leaders are the greatest champions of their local lines, and we want to work closely together to ensure the projects with the greatest potential have the support they need.

Long campaign to reopen lines closed by Dr Beeching 

Rail campaigners have long called for many of the lines axed following the 1963 Beeching Report to be re-opened.

In February, the Campaign for Better Transport urged the Government to invest £5billion in adding 33 lines and 72 stations to the rail network through re-openings, new projects and by running passenger trains on freight lines.

It claimed this would bring more than half a million more people within walking distance of a station.

Examples of lines identified as a priority include March to Wisbech in Cambridgeshire; Totton to Fawley in Hampshire and Ashington to Newcastle, Northumberland.

In November 2017, then-transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that a new development programme would identify opportunities to restore some of the routes axed under Beeching.

Proposals being discussed included suburban lines around Bristol, a freight route that runs through central Birmingham, and the line from Okehampton to Exeter. 

Between 1964 and 1970, 5,224 route miles and 1,434 stations were closed.

In the year before the report, there were 4,347 stations and 34,150 miles of track.

Now there are 2,566 stations and 19,319 miles of track.

Three stations were added to the mainline network in the 12 months to the end of March.

Kenilworth in Warwickshire and Maghull North in Merseyside were new stations, while Dorset's Corfe Castle was an existing station served by a heritage rail service which was added to South Western Railway's network.

One of the last major re-openings of a line in Britain was the Borders Railway in September 2015.

The £294 million link between Edinburgh and Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders re-established part of the former Waverley line, which fell victim to the Beeching cuts.

In December 2016, Chiltern Railways began operating trains between London Marylebone and Oxford city centre on a newly established rail link, providing competition to Great Western Railway's service between the cities.

The £320 million project included upgrading an old 20-40mph branch line to a 100mph main line.

'There will also be opportunities for towns who have lost stations to receive a boost, as we launch another round of our new stations fund.'

MPs, local authorities and community groups across the country are being invited to come up with ideas about how to reinstate others axed rail lines and stations.

The thousands of miles of railway that were axed under the Beeching cuts are in various states of repair.

Some still maintain freight services, some sit unused and overgrown whilst others have been built over or converted to cycle routes or pathways.

Ministers have also vowed to spend £20million to develop new stations in areas which don't have a rail connection.

The announcement forms part of Boris Johnson's plans to 'level up' the country by drastically improving rail links in the regions.

It comes as the beleaguered Northern Rail faces being renationalised this week after running into severe financial problems.

Northern Rail, which stretches from Newcastle and Hull in the east to Liverpool, Blackpool and Carlisle in the west, has faced repeated disruption caused by strikes, delays and the botched introduction of a new timetable.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said earlier this month that the service offered by the operator, which carries 101million passengers per year, was 'completely unacceptable'. 

Andy McDonald MP, the shadow transport secretary, described the announcement as a meaningless distraction from the likely collapse of Northern Rail.

He said. 'The funding pledged by the government would reopen just 25 miles of railway.

'The Conservatives claim to have been reversing Beeching cuts since 2017 despite not reopening an inch of track.

'Investing in the railway is a fantastic policy but this is meaningless without a serious funding commitment of billions of pounds.

'The timing of this announcement is also suspicious and seems designed to distract from the imminent collapse of the Northern rail franchise.'

Critics have previously warned that the £500 million allocated by the Government, a manifesto promise being acted on by Mr Shapps, was well short of the mark if all of Beeching's cuts were to be reversed.

Sim Harris, managing editor of industry newspaper Railnews, said that reopening many of the lines which fell victim to the Beeching cuts would cost 'billions'.

Dr Beeching: The civil servant who shut 4,500 miles of British railway

Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of the British Railways Board holding The Reshaping of British Railways report

British Rail was losing £140m a year when Dr Richard Beeching took over as chairman of the British Transport Commission.

His solution, announced on 27 March 1963, was to 'make railways pay'.

Dr Beeching wrote two reports proposing cuts to British Railway services.

A third of the route surveyed carried only one per cent of passenger and freight traffic.

The second report in 1965 was called The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes.

The first report suggested that 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway line should be closed - accounting for 55 per cent of stations and 30 per cent of route miles.

The Conservative government welcomed the report, but British people living in rural areas were against the plans.

Following the reports 2,128 stations and more than 67,000 British Rail jobs were cut. More than 4,500 miles of track was lost.

Closures stopped in the early 1970s and nearly 30 stretches of railway have since been reopened, including the line between London and Swanage in Dorset.