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Ten ideas for restoring railways

Tuesday 2nd June 2020

The Government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund is a £500 million pot to “kickstart the restoration of lines closed more than 50 years ago”.

It’s had a few launches. Boris Johnson promoted the commitment during the election campaign last November on a visit to Fleetwood then at the end of January Grant Shapps returned there to officially launch the Fund, committing £100,000 to develop proposals for the town’s lost connection to Poulton-le-Fylde. The same day Minister Chris Heaton-Harris visited Bedlington Station where he announced £1.5 million to “drive forward the return of passenger services to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line”.

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Both those Shapps and Heaton-Harris day-outs in January involved announcing a modest £300,000 from the £500 million for an ‘Ideas Fund’ to kickstart the process “to encourage innovative ideas” which could be considered for further funding in the future.

MPs, local authorities and community groups across England were invited to “come forward with proposals on how they could use funding to reinstate axed local services”. Meanwhile, as already reported, £20 million (from the £500 million) was set aside for a third round of the New Stations Fund, for which applications close this Friday.

The Ideas Fund has three rounds, the first already completed, being the ten ideas mentioned by Grant Shapps during his infamous Downing Street briefing over the recent Cummings Bank Holiday weekend. A second round is currently open with a closing date of 19th June, so not long to get your ideas in for that one. Then there’ll be a third round in November “to enable as many communities as possible to take advantage of the support provided”.

The DfT don’t seem worried about raising expectations holding three invitation rounds, bearing in mind the total funding available is just £500 million, which doesn’t go very far when it comes to restoring railway tracks. For example, there wasn’t much change from £350 million just to restore the Borders Railway between Edinburgh and Tweedbank a few years ago.

The Ideas Fund application process involves contacting your MP first off with your idea who passes the expression of interest to the DfT ahead of the relevant funding round. This is followed by a “more in-depth submission making your case” and “an assessment of the proposal by an expert panel”.

The panel includes Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Simon Clarke MP (Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government), Sir Peter Hendy (Chair, Network Rail), Jackie Sadek (CEO UK Regeneration) and Isabel Dedring, Fromer London Deputy Mayor for Transport.

So let’s take a closer look at the ten ideas which have made it through round one. Here’s the list:

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Interestingly some of them involve restoring stations, which is a bit puzzling as I thought that’s what the New Stations Fund was for. As I mentioned in last Saturday’s weekly round up, other successful ideas on the list referred originally to ‘reinstating rail lines’, but they all already exist as freight lines or diversionary routes so the wording was hurriedly amended to ‘restoring passenger services’ when a DfT official spotted the howler on Saturday evening.

First up is ‘reopening Meir Railway Station between Stoke-On-Trent and North Staffordshire’. I’m not sure why the generic “north Staffordshire” rather than something more specific, especially as, confusingly, Stoke-on-Trent is further north in Staffordshire than ‘North Staffordshire’.

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Meir lies between Longton (the station south of Stoke-on-Trent) and Blythe Bridge (the next station south) on the Crewe to Derby line. The station served the industrial estate and surrounding housing in Meir either side of the A50 with the station just east of the tunnel and the junction with the A520 (Leek to Stone road).

It’s reported the former station building built in 1894 was of timber construction including a booking office with cast iron coal burning stove, a waiting room with benched seating, a small store room for cleaning and bike storage, and a “Elsan” bucket type toilet that was normally emptied by the Junior Porter in a dug out hole in the small wooded area to the rear of the building. Presumably the feasibility into a new station will include more modern facilities!

Realistic Rating 8/10 – if a new station can be rebuilt at Bow Street (see this blog) then why not Meir?

The second ‘idea’ is ‘passenger services on the Barrow Hill line between Sheffield and Chesterfield’. This line which runs via Beighton already exists and acts as an alternative to the main line between these cities via Dronfield. It’s currently used by about half a dozen early morning and late night ‘Parliamentary Trains’ (eg the 05:59 Sheffield to Reading journey operated by Cross Country) and was last used as a major diversionary route when the main line via Dronfield was blocked by a landslide in 2014.

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I’m not sure what diverting trains via this route would bring as a benefit. It means trains approaching Sheffield from the north rather than the south which I would have thought would add to the congested tracks in that area. There are two stations on part of the route not far from Sheffield (Darnall and Woodhouse) served by Northern on their Sheffield to Lincoln service but I wouldn’t have thought a direct link from these (if indeed they were included in any service) to Chesterfield was warranted. Why this idea has been short listed is a bit of mystery to me.

Realistic Rating 3/10 (as said, a few trains already use the tracks).

Third on the ‘ideas’ list is ‘passenger services on the Leicester to Burton (Ivanhoe) line’. This is another line which can be used by freight trains and runs for thirty-one miles via Coalville and Ashby-de-la-Zouch; both towns would undoubtedly benefit from having a rail service restored along with a station at Moira.

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Passengers wanting to travel from Leicester to Burton have to travel via, and change trains at, Derby. Arriva run a direct bus during normal non-Covid times. It’s probably the best of the ten ideas short listed, except where would the trains originate from and continue to beyond Leicester and Burton, which could impact existing services.

Realistic Rating 7/10.

Fourth up is ‘reinstatement of branch lines on the isle of Wight’. Note the use of the plural ‘lines’. The idea is to take over (or rather ‘integrate with’) the Isle of Wight steam railway between Smallbrook Junction and Wootton plus extend the line over its former course to Newport, except that’s been significantly built over as you approach Newport.

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I think we’re in fantasy land with this one, especially as the other idea is to extend the existing Island Line from its current Shanklin terminus south to the original terminal at Ventnor. It takes some doing that two of what must be the craziest and most expensive ideas are linked together and make it to a top ten for further consdieration.

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The panel have obviously not realised the island enjoys an award winning bus service already linking Newport with Ryde and Ventnor with Shanklin, Sandown and Ryde. The Island Line in its current form consumes train loads of funding each year, any extensions would just add to the subsidy bill.

Realistic Rating 0/10.

Fifth is the ‘reinstatement of passing loop between St Albans Abbey and Watford Junction (Abbey Line)’. The existing hourly service must lose a fortune. So why spend a fortune on a passing loop so a half hourly service can operate and lose a double fortune, as well as put the viability of the parallel bus route 321 operated by Arriva every 15 minutes in jeopardy.

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This bus route takes not much longer from central St Albans to Watford and is more convenient than St Albans Abbey station situated about a mile from the city centre. A barmy idea, although relative to some of the other ideas, it would involve fairly modest funding, and Hertfordshire is already sore at missing out on the Metropolitan Line being rerouted to Watford Junction, so this idea may gain ground to oil the political wheels.

Realistic Rating 3/10.

Sixth on the list is ‘reopening Wellington and Cullompton stations’. These are between Taunton and Exeter (it’s not Wellington, Shropshire which already has a station, but Wellington, Somerset). Both stations closed in 1964. Like Meir, I’m not sure why this proposal appears in the Ideas Fund rather than the New Stations Fund; but there we are.

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Of the two, I would have thought Wellington stands a better chance of being a viable proposition with a population around 15,000 – almost twice that of Cullompton. There might also be issues over what trains could efficiently stop at an extra station on the busy GWR mainline.

Realistic Rating 6/10.

Seventh up is ‘passenger services on the Bury-Heywood-Rochdale lines’. Like the Isle of Wight steam railway idea, this seems to be suggesting a heritage railway would hand over all its hard work restoring the line to let passenger trains run again. The East Lancs Railway only completed the extension from Bury to Heywood in 2003 and had plans to run trains further east on the line which now connects to Rochdale at the previous station at Castleton.

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It’s a bit cheeky to now suggest this would be taken over by National Rail services. I appreciate co-running arrangements are in place between Grosmont and Whitby between the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and National Rail, but it’s not an ideal arrangement. Rosso run a perfectly good fifteen minute bus service between Bury and Rochdale.

Realistic Rating 3/10.

Eighth is ‘regular passenger services on the Clitheroe to Hellifield railway line’. This line connects to the Settle Carlisle railway at Hellifield which is about 12 miles further north beyond Clitheroe. Trains have used this extension to provide a Sunday day out facility from towns in Lancashire (from Blackpool and Preston across to Blackburn) to connect with trains on the line to Carlisle at Hellifield in recent years.

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The current timetable between Rochdale, Manchester and Clitheroe provides for about a half an hour stand time at Clitheroe, so there’s easily enough time to trundle on to Hellifield and back, even though the justification for doing so is somewhat limited. But it could be a ‘quick win’ at minimal cost, so I wouldn’t be surprised at seeing it move from an ‘idea’ to ‘reality’.

Realistic Rating 10/10.

Ninth is ‘reinstatement of rail access to Devizes via a new station at Lydeway’. This is another ‘new station’ idea; more than that it would be another new ‘parkway’ station idea. There’s no community at ‘Lydeway’ ; it’s just a former junction on the Berks & Hants line between Pewsey and Westbury where a line used to branch off and serve Devizes continuing via Holt to Bradford-on-Avon and Bath.

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The idea would be to provide a station convenient for people to drive and cycle the three and a half miles to Devizes (population 12,000). It makes as much sense as the recently opened Worcestershire Parkway so seems quite a realistic proposition.

Realistic Rating 8/10.

And finally idea number ten is ‘passenger services on the Totton-Fawley (Waterside) line’. This line last saw passenger trains in 1966 and in more recent years has ben used by the military port and the Fawley oil refinery, but is now disused. Hampshire County Council shelved the idea of using the six-mile line for commuter and tourist services in 2014 due to cost concerns.

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There’s a bit of a campaign building again to reconsider particularly as a 1,500 home development is planned for the site of the former Fawley Power Station. Probably worth more work looking at, but it’s out on a limb and will never be viable.

Realistic Rating 3/10.

As you can see there’s no shortage of ideas, and more will come when the second and third tranches of the ‘Ideas Fund’ are announced by an excited Secretary of State (Lewes-Uckfield; Skipton-Colne?). Just how many of these ideas actually come to fruition is quite another matter. But it’s nice to see serious consideration being given to concepts that have been around a long time. I’m sure the local MPs are thrilled; which is probably the point, especially as they’re nearly all Conservative Party MPs (aside from Sheffield, Chesterfield, Rochdale and Leicester).

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.

14 thoughts on “Ten ideas for restoring railways Leave a comment

  1. I agree with some of your findings, the Iow was a really stupid idea – I was surprised that the IoW steam railway statement saying they would work with authorities should iit go forward? The Ivanhoe line certainly has the catchment but the trackbed is so badly undermined with old coal mines underpinning it to bring it up to the required safety level would blow the CBA out the earth! The loop on the Abbey line is a good idea- looking at the LEP plans for housing growth, 28,000 new homes within the lines catchment area is crying out for a half hourly or better service. The Bury route is a bit daft given the better than adequate bus service and shared route use could cause conflict and safety concerns? The new stations at Wellington and Cullompton are a real bang on nail ideas agin with housing growth to 15,000 between them, extending the the Devon Metro services fit the bill very well – however, I think they missed a trick with a new station to serve Torbay Hospital! The new station at Stoke Meh; clearly no need as with the Chesterfield diverts, although there is some expected housing growth and a new ‘Enterprise Park’ (do they build Starships in those?) along the route. Two obvious routes seem to have been overlooked the classic Skipton to Colne and March to Wisbech. Interestingly my employer has just wasted taxpayers funds on a pointless study by consultants to reopen King’s Lynn to Hunstanton – my opinion was not sought despite being the former Railways Officer for the Council! Guess what the report says?….

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  2. This list is, indeed, a rather disappointing concotion of ideas, many of which should have been allocated a place in the New Stations Fund. Others, like the Isle of Wight are wacky. The Waterside line towards Fawley has been considered many times in the past, although it was always considered impossible to reach the original terminus at Fawley, as the old station site is now within the boundary of the giant oil refinery and unavailable for public use. The main community along this line is Hythe, which enjoys a rapid link to Southampton via the Hythe Ferry (currently suspended for Covid19). A rail service would likely cause the demise of this quick link to and from the city.

    This route, is not one of the wacky ideas, however. But it is a grave disappointment that the Tors line, linking Tavistock with Okehampton is missing from the list. The bulk of this alignment across Dartmoor is still readily available for reconversion to a main line railway, which would link the cities of Plymouth and Exeter. It would also provide greater resilience for services to Cornwall and Devon, as well as restoring a link to the rail network for communities in the north of Devon.

    A very disappointing omission.

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  3. Roger – you are negative on two possible re-openings in very crowded areas, where bus routes compete for road space with single-occupancy cars and light vans. I think that congestion could make the Fawley a better case than 3/10. In the case of the St Albans to Watford line, I wonder whether it is time to think of other than heavy rail. After all, you have to change at Watford Junction to go anywhere else. The Watford Junction to Rickmansworth re-opening failed, and will probably stay failed because it depends on TfL funding a development not within London. How about connecting the St Albans line with the Croxley link, say by enhanced light rail through Watford town centre? The rights of way exist, and access into Watford town centre from north-east and south-west, and without using road space could be greatly enhanced.

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  4. Roger’s analysis is generally spot-on here . . . . the IoW railways? The alignment at Newport is long built over, and Ventnor station was never convenient for the town, being high above on the cliffs!!

    The Abbey Flyer has long been an ugly duckling . . . not especially busy, but does provide some quite important links. It suffers from an irregular service interval, and re-instating a passing loop at Bricket Wood could be in the nature of priming the pump . . . . a 30 minute service, possibly increasing to every 20 minutes for the crucial peak hour could well see a substantial increase in usage. Carefully marketed as an alternative to the overcrowded Thameslink trains; maybe with a couple of through trains to Euston (the existing Watford Junction terminators?) . . . . this might just fly!! {pun intended!!}.
    I must point out that Herts CC have tried for around 20 years to promote conversion to light rail or tram train, but it’s never been seen as “sexy” enough.

    Extending through St Albans to the City Station is one problem . . . . trams through a medieval street pattern? Not on those corners; 11m buses struggle at times! There was (around 3 years ago) a dedicated bus link that met all trains at Abbey Station . . . supposedly for electric bus operation, but initially just Euro6 E200. It lasted less than 12 months . . . loadings were miniscule.

    At Watford, the line is on the wrong side of the WCML, so extending through to the Town Centre (and possibly Watford Met) would be hugely expensive, and it’s only a 10 minute walk from platform to High Street, with plenty of buses if desired.
    And finally . . . .look at the AM peak timetable for Route 321 towards Watford . . . . traffic congestion around the M1/M25 junction is horrendous with a capital H . . . . the bus takes around 50-60 minutes, compared with 16 minutes on the train.

    I reckon the score for this proposal should be elevated to 8/10 . . . it’s actually quite a quick win, with an extended platform at Bricket Wood and two points the4 sum total of the infrastructure needed . . . . there might even be some change from £500m!!!

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  5. Most of the closed railway lines are not really an option as the lines were never protected when they closed and most have been at least partially built over

    You might be able to use laser guided buses. This could uses the track bed where it exists and roads where it does not . It could also get the services in to the towns as a lot of these old lines had the stations a long way from the towns they served. Probably a lot of problems with this though

    Quite why they do not upgrade the Felixstowe line who knows. Expensive but it i has huge benefits in that it takes a lot of lorries off of the road and allow for improvement of the passenger service

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  6. There has been some recent upgrading on the Felixstowe line: ee https://www.railengineer.co.uk/2019/07/09/felixstowe-branch-line-capacity-enhancement-goes-live/

    The major bottleneck is of course the Derby Road viaduct which would be difficult to double. Electrification has been proposed; although this would obviate a locomotive change at Ipswich for trains going towards London this would be of dubious value as there is only limited capacity on this route and onwards around London. The line towards Nuneaton from Haughley Junction is of course not electrified. And you’d still need diesel power at Felixstowe Port – OHL and container cranes don’t mix!

    Apparently though there is not much point in further enhancing capacity on the Felixstowe branch. The next obvious improvement would be to redouble Haughley Junction and also double from Soham to Ely (a bridge wehich collapsed on this stretch some years ago was rebuilt to take two tracks). However there would be a need to resignal between Haughley and Ely – although the semaphores went a few years ago the block sections are long. And I believe that there are also capacity problems onward to Peterborough and also at the approach to Leicester. In general terms there is a desire to run longer container trains; I don’t know if they would fit into Derby Road loop which was lengthened about 20 years ago. I have read about all this but can’t remember where!

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  7. A few comments from the East Midlands.

    It’s a pity that whoever wrote the list didn’t know where Meir was. It is part of Stoke-on-Trent Unitary Authority, which is surrounded by the rest of Staffordshire The area could do with some investment. None of the buses serving Meir go to Stoke station, they all go to Hanley. So there could be a demand for long-distance travel starting in Meir as well as local, and, now that Derby – Crewe trains are two-car, rather than single 153s, there is room for extra passengers.

    My thoughts on the Barrow Hill line were the same as yours, but I’m told that there are plans for intermediate stations. I don’t, yet, know any details.

    The Ivanhoe line has been on/off/on/off for about 30 years, so all that is needed is to blow the dust off previous plans and reports and update them. NW Leicestershire District has always been in favour, but the County Council has been wary of ending up having to pay an operational subsidy. The big problem is that the junction at the Leicester end faces towards London rather than the city centre, but Leicester’s City Mayor is campaigning to alter this. A direct run into the Midland Main Line station would be much quicker from Coalville than the existing, and not well-used, bus service. This goes nowhere near the railway station at either Leicester or Burton, which discourages its use for connecting into long-distance rail travel. The original plan for a train service was a circular: Derby – Burton – Coalville – Leicester – Loughborough – Derby, taking over main line stops. Tarka Man commented on subsidence – I don’t know the current state of the trackbed,but the last colliery on the route closed in 1991, so there will be nothing ongoing.

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  8. Wales is apparently looking into requiring Pre Booking for all Rail and bus services. It could work on rail but it is difficult to see it working on buses

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  9. Rather ominously he seems to be putting a lot of trust in the new experimental Fflecsi service in Newport which “replaces a number of scheduled local bus services with more flexible services that can pick up and drop off near work, shops and homes by request, rather than following a set timetable at fixed bus stops” and can be booked by app or phone. Obviously one might make a case for booking longer distance rail services or Trawscymru, but not short distance services … after all, who knows how long the queue might be at the supermarket?

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  10. Meir is exceedingly close to existing stations at Longton (around 1.25 miles to the west) and Blythe Bridge (1.5 miles to the east). As with Warrington West, one of the others would almost certainly lose its service to the new location, in the unlikely event that it proceeded. So rather less than 8/10 in my opinion.

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  11. Hard to see how ANY of this can now be afforded, particularly such fanciful rubbish as totally unnecessary new lines for the Isle of Wight! All reminiscent of the Blair days when £50 million was cluelessly thrown at Rural buses c1999, most of which was wasted. But as always with the emotive subject of railways, much passion shown by all who have their own “pet” projects and ideas. If only the same could be said for those of us who care much about bus services.

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  12. Another interesting post, as always, Roger.
    I’ve recently written a lengthy “discussion starter” in a Yahoo Group about the three local schemes within this list of ten (Meir, Chesterfield – Sheffield, Leicester – Burton), which I am happy to send to you. It’s rather too long to add as a Comment here.

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