Thursday 23rd June 2022
Last Saturday Minister of State for Transport Wendy Morton announced “a further £15 million in funding to develop nine Restoring Your Railway schemes across England to reopen disused railway lines, services and stations, including some that were axed in the 1950s and 60s – with one station taken out of use as far back as 1930, Haxby Station on the York to Scarborough Line”.
The news presumably looked good in Number 10’s ‘media announcement grid’ being nicely timed for last Sunday’s Government supporting newspapers which were bound to be going overboard with attacks on the RMT as this week’s rail strikes drew closer.
But the announcement is hardly revolutionary as most of the nine schemes receiving funding were announced by Secretary of State Grant Shapps during Lockdown One in late May 2020 in a vain attempt to divert attention away from the infamous Cummings’ Bank Holiday press conference about eyesight tests in Barnard Castle.
I blogged back then about those first ten successful schemes to the DfT’s “Ideas Fund” giving them a few thousand pounds each enabling work to proceed to develop “Strategic Outline Business Cases”.
Now the DfT has provided a summary update not only of the nine schemes highlighted in Saturday’s news release but each of the 141 unique bids it’s received across the three application rounds, including those that have been unsuccessful.
This fascinating update shows those still on the platform as well as those which have hit the buffers. It can be found by clicking on this link.
It shows, for example, of the first original ten successful “Ideas” in May 2020 four have since been dropped being …..
- reinstatement of branch lines on the Isle of Wight
- reinstatement of passing loop between St Albans Abbey and Watford Junction (Abbey Line)
- passenger services on the Bury-Heywood-Rochdale lines
- regular passenger services on the Clitheroe to Hellifield railway line
… although it doesn’t mean all is lost as the promoters may be able to secure funding to progress the projects from other sources, for example, Hertfordshire County Council have aspirations to transform the Abbey Line as part of a Countywide ‘metro’ style network. Others, like reinstating branch lines on the Isle of Wight were always a hopeless fantasy and frankly should never have attracted funding from the “Ideas Fund” to progress any form of business case at all.
The nine schemes announced on Saturday sharing that further £15 million and meaning they’re still potentially going places are:
Of these nine, four were part of the original ten schemes announced in May 2020: the Barrow Hill and Ivanhoe Lines as well as Meir and Devizes Stations ….. while the Aldridge/Walsall line upgrade was already in the pipeline as an “Advanced Proposal”, Haxby was a “New Stations Fund” success, Fleetwood was from a “Pre-Ideas Fund” and Ferryhill and Mid Cornwall Metro were from the second round of “Ideas Fund” announced at the end of 2020 which I blogged about that December. (You get the idea there’s no shortage of “Funds” around when it comes to “Restoring Your Railways” – which are all good for generating news headlines of course.)
The two ideas in the May 2020 original ten not yet mentioned as either being dropped or getting more funding are, it seems, still in the pipeline. They’re reopening Wellington and Cullompton stations and reinstating passenger services on the Totton-Fawley (Waterside) line. Both are “progressing past the Strategic Outline Business Case” so expect more announcements over a tricky news agenda weekend in future months.
Looking at the state of play in the DfT’s update document outlining the winners and losers throws up a few surprises.
For example, developing Strategic Outline Business Cases (SOBC) are: reinstating lines/passenger services between Consett-Newcastle; Gainsborough-Barton; Gaerwen-Amlwch (Anglesey); Beverley-York; Tavistock-Plymouth while Stratford-upon-Avon-Honeybourne and Alfreton-Ashfield Maid Marian Line have hit the buffers along with others which didn’t even make it through the “Ideas Fund” such as Lewes-Uckfield; a 1km link from Coastway West to the Arun Valley line, and there still seems to be no mention of the idea of restoring the Colne to Skipton line which has been the subject of vigorous local campaigning for many years. I’d have thought that stood more of a chance than some of the aforementioned ideas still developing a SOBC.
Other schemes known as “Advanced Proposals” which won’t be attracting Restoring Your Railway funding include Brentford to Southall; West London Orbital (Dudding Hill Lane) and North Cotswold.
Of course, the model of success hailed by Ministers is last November’s reopening of the Okehampton to Exeter line, but this was a bit of a cheat as trains had been running on the line for many summers thanks to Devon County Council’s funding.
All that was needed was a long overdue track and signalling upgrade. Similarly the next ribbon cutting ceremony should be ready if not next year, certainly before the next General Election and will tick all the “levelling up” boxes as it’s in the Red Wall north east heartland where the freight line between Ashington and Newcastle is being upgraded thanks to circa £200 million.
As for all the other pet schemes, the update provided by the DfT is a fascinating listing and well worth a quick read.
I can’t help thinking any of these schemes if implemented will merely add to the rail industry’s financial black hole we’ve heard so much about this week. Personally I’d rather hear a Government commitment to retain ticket offices than wasting any more funds on “reversing Beeching”. I suspect many passengers using Government run (Directly Operated Railways) Northern Rail experiencing much reduced timetables might also feel there are other priorities than reopening a station closed “as far back as 1930”.
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