Missing Links

Railfuture campaigns for railway lines to be opened or reopened, in alliance with other groups throughout Britain, have been a success. Over the past half-century more than 500 miles of route have been added to the network, gaining tremendous popular support. Clearly there is no prospect of reopening all the lines closed by British Railways, but in some places - where the economic factors that brought about their closure have changed - there is a need for new or reopened lines to meet the increasing demand for rail transport.

Railfuture is focussing on the following schemes which we believe will most support economic growth, and therefore offer the greatest chance of success.

A Strategic Network

Alternative routes between major centres are needed to create additional capacity and resilience in the strategic network. The risk of single points of failure in the rail network has been cruelly exposed by the recent damage to the sea wall at Dawlish, which cut off south west England from the rail network for two months.

East West Rail is GO! as VIPs (including MP and DfT representative) stand in front of 'GO' (rather than 'Stop') sign on the mothballed route east of Claydon Junction. This photo was taken after they alighted from a Chiltern Railways special train to promote the reopening Oxford - Cambridge The first phase of East West Rail was approved on 16th July 2012 and a Joint Delivery Board has been formed. Oxford to Bletchley will be reinstated and electrified as part of the 'Electric Spine', to support freight between Southampton and the Midlands. On 8 January 2013 Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19 confirmed their plans for the western section. Passenger services started running between Marylebone and Oxford Parkway via Bicester as part of Chiltern Railway's Evergreen 3 project from 25th October 2015, and will be extended to Oxford on 12th December 2016. While you're waiting, enjoy Let's go to London. Services between Oxford / Aylesbury - Bletchley - Bedford / Milton Keynes are planned to start December 2017. This is a fantastic result for Railfuture - we are continuing to campaign to complete the project to Cambridge, and arranged a walk from Bedford to Sandy on 29th June 2013 to highlight the next phase.

One of Railfuture's major campaigns is the reinstatement of the Uckfield-Lewes railway line that was closed in the late 1960s. Subsequently Uckfield station was moved north to allow a level crossing to be abolished. Restatement will require a bridge at this point Uckfield - Lewes Railfuture is campaigning to reconnect communities and promote economic growth in East Sussex and Kent by reinstating the Uckfield to Lewes railway line, which will create an alternative route between the Sussex coast and London. This will promote economic growth in East Sussex by providing access from the Weald to employment in Brighton, help regenerate Newhaven, create additional peak capacity between the South Coast and London to relieve the Brighton Main Line, and provide a diversionary route to help maintain the Brighton visitor economy.

  • Okehampton route. The first priority for the south-west must be to ensure that connectivity is maintained, both to Plymouth and the large number of communities between Exeter and Newton Abbot. Therefore Railfuture consider that the sequence in which enhancements are implemented should be to strengthen the existing route, then to reinstate the Okehampton route. The Okehampton route can be built incrementally: first by providing a regular Exeter-Okehampton service, then reopening Bere Alston - Tavistock; and finally by closing the 15 mile gap between Tavistock and Okehampton.

  • Transpennine routes are becoming congested, so additional capacity will be needed to meet demand. Work is required to determine which option best meets that demand:
    • Skipton - Colne The campaign group SELRAP propose the reopening of the Skipton - Colne line to connect the relatively depressed areas of Burnley and Colne via Skipton to Leeds and the Aire Valley and drive economic regeneration. A Promoter Group is needed, with leadership from Lancashire County Council.
    • Woodhead Once the Great Central main line to Manchester, the Woodhead Tunnel is now used for National Grid electricity cables.
    • Matlock - Peak Forest Originally the Midland Main Line to Manchester, part is now the Peak Rail heritage line.
    • On 23rd June 2014 George Osborne proposed the concept of a high-speed line linking Leeds and Manchester, using existing rail routes, to help create a 'northern global powerhouse'.

  • Heathrow southern access. The London Borough of Wandsworth and the Surrey County Council rail strategy both call for direct access from Surrey and south-west London to Heathrow. Various proposals including Airtrack and Airtrack Lite have been put forward. Railfuture advocate extending Heathrow Connect services to Staines as a first step, followed by a service from Guildford and Woking to Heathrow when grade separation of the junction at Woking creates more capacity on the South West Main Line.

  • Peterborough bypass. Railfuture have been campaigning for grade separation at Werrington which would complete a strategic eastern spine route for freight, relieving the East Coast Main Line. Network Rail presented their proposals to local councillors and at public exhibitions in Werrington in June - these include alternatives of a flyover or a dive-under. If proposals are approved work is expected to start in early 2017 and be completed in early 2019.
Finally, HS2 will provide a step change in capacity to relieve the West Coast Main Line.

Metro services

As our cities grow, so there is a need for more capacity in their metro networks.

Image Bristol MetroWest Railfuture supports MetroWest proposals for more frequent services, reopened stations, reinstatement of the Portishead branch and quadruple track between Bristol Temple Meads and Filton, which will attract commuters out of their cars and ease congestion around Bristol. We are pressing neighbouring local authorities (Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) to become more involved so that their rail aspirations are integrated with those of the West of England Partnership.

Image Ashington Blyth and Tyne Railfuture supports the SENRUG campaign to re-introduce passenger services on part of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne freight network. The business case is supported by robust Market Appraisal and Demand Assessment reports commissioned by Northumberland County Council and presented to DfT. On 12th October 2015 Northumberland County Council initiated the GRIP2 feasibility study to carry out the detailed development work for the scheme.

  • Cross-London links. Further cross-London links (and extensions to Crossrail) will be required after the Thameslink upgrade and Crossrail to provide the capacity required to meet the continuing increase in demand for rail travel and support economic growth. Crossrail 2 is proposed to link South Western and West Anglia inner suburban services by tunnel between Wimbledon and Hackney, supported by LondonFirst, with implementation expected by 2029. In the longer term, with implementation possible by 2039, Railfuture also advocate Thameslink 2 on a north - south axis via Docklands (given that central London is extending eastwards)to connect northeast with southeast London, relieve congestion at London Bridge and release capacity on the East London line, Jubilee line and Brighton Main Line.

  • Glasgow CrossRail. Using the existing line across Glasgow, via a new station at Glasgow Cross, to integrate services north and south of the Clyde. As well as opening up through journey possibilities within Glasgow and helping to regenerate the Glasgow Cross area, with major interchanges at Glasgow Cross and West Street, the link would also make longer journeys possible, such as a service from Dundee to Glasgow Airport.

Isolated towns

Growing towns which are isolated from the rail network can be hit particularly hard in an economic downturn; reinstating a rail link can promote economic recovery, and when the population is 20,000 or more a good business case can be made.

Railway route map produced by Railfuture showing how a reopened March-Wisbech railway line would connect with Peterborough, Ely, Cambridge and many other destinations March - Wisbech The catalyst for launching our campaign was the commitment of Cambridgeshire County Council in the Local Transport Plan to fund and carry out a business-case study for the reconnection. We organised an online and paper petition, attracting a huge response with 3784 signatures, to show the County Council evidence of support from local members of the public for the reconnection and thus encourage it to pursue the project through to its logical conclusion. The results of the County Council commissioned Stage 1 study have already been published and these show the line could be operated at a profit. A Stage 2 study has therefore been commissioned which will assess the capital costs. There have been positive statements of intent from within the splendid "Wisbech 2020 Vision" manifesto (PDF download) and from the Wisbech Member of Parliament Steve Barclay, who organised a Rail Summit of key stakeholders. At the rail summit Stephen Hammond, the Rail Minister, described the reopeing as a strategic priority. The campaign is specifically targeted at people in the local area who will directly benefit from the scheme. At 31,000 people in the built up area of greater Wisbech, this is one of the largest towns in the UK without a railway station - and the tracks of the 'mothballed' railway run right into the town! Also download our original March-Wisbech proposals and for further developments and information check the campaign website.

Map showing route of the former railway Skelmersdale branch line that once served a station in Skelmersdale Kirkby - Skelmersdale. In December 2012 a Merseytravel report proposed that an infrastructure study be undertaken by Network Rail in conjunction with local councils to define the scope of the project. The West Lancashire Master Plan (page 29) includes linking Skelmersdale to the rail network with a new rail station and bus interchange in the town centre. Services to Kirkby from Liverpool would be extended to Skelmersdale, and services from Wigan to Kirkby would be diverted to Skelmersdale, where a park and ride facility would also be established. The development is in the package of twelve rail priorities which make up the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy published by Merseytravel in 2014. On 1st June 2015 Lancashire County Council approved £1m funding towards the GRIP3 evaluation, whilst in April 2016 it was reported that Lancashire County Council will invest £4.7m into the project over the next two years.
  • Bere Alston - Tavistock. This is an example of a local authority taking the initiative, with the support of the local population, to reopen a railway line to meet a local transport need. Devon County Council has worked with Kilbride to raise funding from developers of new housing at Tavistock, and is progressing the business case and technical investigation of structures on the route for GRIP stages 2 and 3. On 9th July 2014 the council agreed to progress the detailed design and in August 2014 approved outline planning permission for the 750 home development which will fund the rail link.

  • Haverhill has grown five fold to a population of nearly 30,000 since the railway was closed, and the town is still growing. Roads and bus services to Cambridge are congested at peak times. Local group Rail Haverhill has started a petition to reinstate the 12-mile rail link from Cambridge, and distributed leaflets part-funded by Railfuture to publicise it.

  • Sheffield - Stocksbridge. This is an existing freight branch. A study in 2010 found that a passenger service would be technically feasible; just one train could provide a half-hourly service. The aim now is to develop a viable business plan.


Often reinstating or creating a new chord can create opportunities for new services which meet a latent transport demand.
As part of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), which will electrify one of the routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow, track had to be lowered in Winchburgh Tunnel to create space to install overhead wires to be installed. This photo shows the trackwork taking place in summer 2015, which required the tunnel to be closed for 44 days Almond Chord. Construction of the Almond chord (which is going ahead) before work started to enlarge the Winchburgh tunnel as part of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Project would have avoided the disruption of the line between Linlithgow and Edinburgh Park being closed for three months.

Heritage railways

There are also opportunities for greater use and integration of preserved lines as public transport.

Route protection

Transport schemes take a long time to develop. Rail reopenings, like most rail projects, have to go through Network Rail's GRIP process, the Governance for Railway Investment Projects. This is a long slow process, and without protection these linear assets are easily destroyed by redevelopment. Therefore Railfuture consider that planning authorities should protect potentially valuable routes for which a business case has not yet been established. Characteristics which justify protection for a closed route include the following:
  • Short lines which link growing towns to the network
  • Duplicate lines linking major cities, which may be required to provide additional capacity in future
  • Lines which fill gaps in the network, eg Uckfield – Lewes
  • Lines with one of the characteristics above but currently operated as a heritage railway, where transport (rather than leisure) services could be offered with the agreement of the heritage operator.
Railfuture campaigns have helped to put 500 miles of route (and 370 stations) on the map in the last 50 years. Let's keep them coming!