Missing Links

See Restoring Your Railway | A Strategic Network | Metro services | Isolated towns | Chords | Route protection | Links success

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. Our new guide Expanding the Railways, which can be viewed or downloaded, will help stakeholders and campaigners navigate the process of gaining agreement to a new railway.

Railfuture focuses on schemes which we believe will most support economic (housing / productivity) growth, and therefore offer the greatest chance of success. Earlier guidance was published in June 2009 by the former Association of Train Operating Companies in "Connecting Communities". See also:

Restoring Your Railway

Photo 2 of 3 of a charter train promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line whilst travelling £500m will not go far but it’s a start
Despite the COVID crisis the government is demonstrating commitment to rail by pressing ahead with its Restoring Your Railway initiative. Ten successful bids in the first round of the Ideas Fund have been announced – a common factor of these bids, if delivered, is that they will connect significant numbers of people to the rail network.

Some of the other 100 bids submitted in the first two rounds, and some other potential schemes not yet submitted, could offer worthwhile benefits. We aim to engage and support the promoters and the sponsoring MP to get them (re)submitted and selected.
Photo of SENRUG Charter 2008 at Bedlington on the Ashington Blyth and Tyne route by John Brierley.

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 16 July 2012 and a Joint Delivery Board was formed. Oxford and Aylesbury to Bletchley and Bedford will be reinstated. 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 London Marylebone and Oxford Parkway via Bicester Village as part of Chiltern Railway's Chiltern’s Evergreen 3 project from 25 October 2015, and were extended to Oxford on 12 December 2016. Services between Oxford / Aylesbury - Bletchley - Bedford / Milton Keynes are planned to start by the early-2020s. While you're waiting, enjoy Let's go to London. This is a fantastic result for Railfuture - we are continuing to campaign to complete the project to Cambridge. A walk from Bedford to Sandy took place on 29 June 2013 to highlight the next phase. In October 2018 the proposed East-West Expressway was put under the spotlight. In October 2019 Phase 2 of the Western Section was included, at stage 3 of 5, in the DfT's new Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline.

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 support economic growth in East Sussex and Kent and reconnect communities by linking Uckfield and Lewes by rail. This could support sustainable housing growth to help meet Brighton's unmet housing needs. It would promote economic growth in East Sussex by providing access between the Weald and employment opportunities in Brighton, help regenerate Newhaven, create additional peak capacity between the South Coast and London to relieve the Brighton Main Line, and help maintain Brighton's visitor economy by providing an alternative, diversionary route between the Sussex coast and London.

A powerhouse to be effective has to be connected up and switched on. 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:

  • The Peaks and Dales Railway is leading the effort to fund and deliver the Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) for the full reinstatement and upgrade of the former mainline railway between Ambergate and Chinley, with the support of Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership. Originally the Midland Main Line to Manchester, part is now the Peak Rail heritage line.
  • 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. An Outputs Definition Group has been set up, comprising six local authorities including Lancashire County Council, to promote the proposal. On 3 February 2018 the Transport Secretary announced a feasibility study, co-commissioned with Transport for the North, into the value of reopening the Skipton to Colne railway on a visit to Colne Railway Station. In October 2019 the scheme was included, at stage 1 of 5, in the DfT's new Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline.
  • The Woodhead Tunnel, once on the Great Central main line to Manchester, is now used for National Grid electricity cables.
  • 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'.
Image by Heathrow Southern Railway 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 but failed. The DfT has identified southern access as one of the first Never-never railways in their drive for private companies to invest in the rail network. Heathrow Southern Railway is a prime contender for this initiative. Railfuture advocate extending Heathrow Connect to Staines as a first step, followed by extension of Heathrow Express services to Woking and Guildford if HSR is built and when grade separation of the junction at Woking creates more capacity on the South West Main Line.

Ely North Junction - Network Rail study area 2020 Ely bypass. Ely North Junction is a major bottleneck on the strategic F2N freight route. However not all problems are best solved exactly where the problem manifests itself. The need in the Ely area is to enable freight on the east-west alignment (which has no business at Ely station) to have an uninterrupted journey, maintaining efficient line-speed and minimising journey-time, between the Bury St. Edmunds line and the Peterborough line. An Ely bypass would also minimise impacts on passenger services especially on the north-south alignment; one such possibility is illustrated here.

Image Okehampton route. Due to unstable cliffs and extreme weather events on the coastal route via Dawlish to Plymouth and Cornwall, the first priority for the South-West must be to ensure that connectivity is maintained at all times. The alternative Okehampton route from Exeter to Plymouth should be reopened as soon as possible, starting with a regular Exeter-Okehampton service using the existing track, (which in January 2018 the Secretary of State for Transport instructed Great Western Railway to provide). The restoration of regular passenger services from Plymouth to Tavistock (pop.13k) should complement this. Services for both Okehampton (with a new Parkway station) and Tavistock are seen as part of Devon Metro. In late-September 2020 it was reported that 'restoration of regular passenger services to Okehampton (from Exeter) is in Network Rail's second tranche of seven Project Speed case studies. Ideally the full route to Plymouth, on restored track via Tavistock, should then be made available as a diversionary route before the difficult strengthening work on the coastal route near Teignmouth disrupts services.

Finally, HS2 will provide a step change in capacity and 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: more frequent services, reopened stations, reinstatement of passenger services on the Portishead branch and quadruple track between Bristol Temple Meads and Filton. These will ease congestion around Bristol by attracting commuters with quicker and more reliable journeys. We are pressing neighbouring authorities (Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) to become more involved so that their rail aspirations are integrated with those of the West of England Partnership. In July 2019 the Transport Secretary committed over £31million to the project, which then appeared at step 3 of 5 in his Department's Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline that October. Application for a Development Consent Order was submitted the following month and formally accepted in December 2019.

Map of Cowley branch between Oxford and Oxford Business Park stations Oxford's Cowley branch, on and off for years, including a new station to serve Oxford Science Park, is a prime candidate for the government's new Restoring Your Railway Fund. The current freight-only line is firmly on the agenda for the Oxfordshire Growth Board and for one of Oxford's MPs. She has recently walked the route with the City Council Leader to demonstrate the line's potential for passenger services. The MP for Oxford East wrote to the Transport Secretary on 10 June 2020 indicating the strong likelihood of a bid to the third round of the Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund in November 2020. A demonstration train, courtesy of Chiltern Railways, had run along the branch as long ago as 5 November 2014!

Cambridge Connect symbol Cambridge: capacity and connectivity for continued, and lo-carbon, growth. Cambridge Connect, based around the vision of an 'Isaac Newton line', is the Railfuture East Anglia-supported choice to resolve the conundrum. A recent (early-2020) consultation by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority on a 'Cambridge Autonomous Metro', advocated by the directly-elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, adopts some similar principles, such as the need for tunnels to cross central Cambridge.

Image Cross-London links. Further cross-London links (and extensions to Crossrail, such as to Ebbsfleet garden city) 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 London First, with implementation expected in the 2030's. East London and Essex authorities particularly advocate an East London Riverside Route. In the longer term, with implementation needed for the 2040's, 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 and Gatwick Airport, relieve congestion at London Bridge and release capacity on the East London line, Jubilee line and Brighton Main Line. Across west London, Transport for London are developing the West London Orbital between West Hampstead and Hounslow, via Old Oak Common.

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. Read Reconnecting left-behind towns.

Railway route map produced by Railfuture showing how a reopened March-Wisbech railway line would connect with Peterborough, Ely, Cambridge and many other destinations Wisbech. The 7 miles of railway from March to Wisbech closed to passenger services in 1968 and to freight in 2000. Reopening this mothballed line into the town would connect the 30,000 people living in the area with jobs in Cambridge. Our 2008 proposals led to a petition with 3784 signatures, encouraging Cambridgeshire County Council to fund a business study and North East Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay to host a Rail Summit of key stakeholders in 2014. The business study showed a BCR of 3.0 justifying funding for the following engineering study. In 2018 Railfuture joined with local people, rail planning experts and influential local business leaders to progress Wisbechrail through a new Wisbech Consultative Group. In 2020 the Cambridge and Peterborough Combined Authority approved the conclusions of the full business case for restoring the link.

Photo of a charter train at a station (showing destination as Ashington) promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line Ashington Blyth and Tyne. Railfuture supports the SENRUG campaign to re-introduce passenger services on part of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne freight network, which will bring around 100,000 people in an area of high unemployment and poor transport links within reach of jobs and education in Newcastle. The business case is supported by robust Market Appraisal, Demand Assessment reports and a GRIP2 Feasibility Study commissioned by Northumberland County Council. On 11th October 2016 Northumberland County Council agreed to proceed to GRIP 3. There were encouraging words from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during a visit in February 2019, leading to inclusion at stage 2 Develop in DfT's new Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP). In January 2020 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps allocated £1.5m for development of the project when launching the Restoring Your Railway Fund. Following NCC's commitment of £10m two major consultancies started development in May 2020 and survey works began the next month. Photo by John Brierley.

Map showing route of the former railway Skelmersdale branch line that once served a station in Skelmersdale Skelmersdale - Kirkby. The West Lancashire Master Plan (p.29) includes re-connecting Skelmersdale (pop. c.40k) to the rail network with a new rail station and bus interchange in the town centre. 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. A GRIP 3A study for both a new station at Headbolt Lane in the Northwood area of Kirkby, and for a new railway branch line from Rainford into Skelmersdale town centre, is expected to conclude late in 2020. In March 2020 West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper received assurances from the DfT that Restoring Your Railway funding could be used to accelerate schemes such as Skelmersdale. In June 2020 Lancashire County Council confirmed acquisition of the site of the former Glenburn Sports College, and approved £2 million to demolish the buildings on the site and prepare the area for the construction of a rail station. Merseytravel electric services will be extended beyond Kirkby to Skelmersdale, where they will connect with Northern services from Wigan diverted from Kirkby. In August 2020 it was reported that work on the scheme could be “accelerated” under a new funding application.

Leamside line northern section showing routes to Washington in 1948 Washington is a large town (pop.67k) within the City of Sunderland, in the constituency of Washington and Sunderland West. Its designation as a New Town on 24 July 1964 came shortly after its rail station was closed to passengers on 9 September 1963; it closed to goods on 7 December 1964. Meanwhile the nearby A1(M) was being built between junctions 56-65, and opened in stages from 1965-70. There are two former rail routes either or both of which could reconnect Washington to rail networks. One is north towards Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the former Leamside line to reconnect at Pelaw Junction near Heworth, the other is east towards Sunderland to connect into the Tyne & Wear Metro at its South Hylton terminus. Proposals for reintroducing rail services to Washington were submitted to DfT in the first round of bidding to the Ideas Fund of the Restoring Your Railway fund. This connection would be via the Leamside Line and an extension of the current rail corridor between Sunderland and South Hylton. Although not initially successful, North East Combined Authority are continuing a dialogue with DfT and local MPs with a view to resubmitting a proposal to DfT in due course.

Flossie the dog on disused Levenmouth rail line, track in place, as used by walkers, halfway between Thornton and Leven - Jan 2015 Levenmouth The Levenmouth Rail Campaign seeks to restore rail services to the disused line between Thornton and Levenmouth, a conurbation with a population of 38,000 and a high level of deprivation, to provide access to job, training and leisure opportunities in Edinburgh and South Fife. On 8 August 2019 Michael Matheson, the Scottish Transport Secretary, announced the green light and £75m to reopen the route to passenger services with stations at Leven and Cameron Bridge.

StARLink Convener Jane Ann Liston with others marking 50th anniversary of closure of St. Andrews rail link St. Andrews in Fife has a resident population of 17,000 but is now six miles from the nearest railway station at Leuchars since its own station and connecting line closed in 1969. It is home to the University of St. Andrews, as well as being synonymous with golf. Two grants from Transport Scotland's Local Rail Development Fund, first in August 2018 and again, after the Fund was re-launched in February 2019, in August 2019 have enabled detailed appraisal work to progress, 50 years after the town lost its rail service.

Map of the Fawley branch from 1960 Hythe and Fawley in the Hampshire District of New Forest have a population of over 20,000, and thousands of new homes are planned for the Waterside area. These communities are currently dependent on increasingly heavily-congested roads since rail passenger services last ran in 1966, whilst the ferry service between Hythe and Southampton Port has been threatened with closure as passenger numbers have declined due to its unreliability. A rail service between Fawley, Hythe and Southampton, via Totton, on the existing freight branch would offer a much shorter journey time to the city centre than either the bus or the ferry. On 23 May the Transport Secretary announced that Hampshire County Council's bid for the Waterside line is one of the first 10 bids to the first round of the Ideas Fund to be selected to receive shares of the £500k Restoring Your Railway fund. On 28 July SWR ran a special train along the branch carrying a high-level delegation.

Bere Alston station, looking towards Tavistock Bere Alston - Tavistock. Seen as part of Devon Metro, this is an example of a local authority, Devon County Council, taking the initiative, with the support of the local population, to reopen a railway line to meet a local transport need. The County Council worked with Kilbride Group to raise funding from developers of new housing at Tavistock, and progressed the business case and technical investigation of the route's structures for GRIP stages 2 and 3. In July 2014 the council agreed to progress the detailed design and in September 2014 approved outline planning permission for the 750 home development to help fund the rail link. A report commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England Rural reconnections: the social benefits of rail reopening, published in June 2015, had used Exeter-Okehampton-Tavistock-Plymouth as its case study. With high-profile support in early-2019, and despite rising costs reported that autumn, it is hoped that the scheme will make accelerated progress in 2020 through the DfT's new Restoring Your Railway Fund in view of the large amount of work that has already been undertaken.

Malcolm Hill, chairman of the Cambridge to Colchester Rail Project, Haverhill in the District of West Suffolk 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. Greater Cambridge City Deal commissioned and recently published a Cambridge to Haverhill Corridor viability report giving an early, very pessimistic, estimate of the Benefit to Cost Ratio which Railfuture believe can be improved.


Often reinstating or creating a new chord can create opportunities for new services which meet a latent transport demand.
  • Almond Chord. Construction would give a connection from Edinburgh Airport to the west. The chord would also make it possible for a new Winchburgh station to support the proposed £1Bn Winchburgh Village development.
  • Crigglestone chord would enable quicker direct passenger services between Sheffield, Barnsley and Huddersfield.
  • Hall Farm curve for direct Stratford-Walthamstow-Chingford services.
  • Adswood curve would provide an alternative route to Trafford Park freight terminal and a new freight terminal, relieving the Castlefield corridor

Route protection

Transport schemes take a long time to develop. Rail reopenings, as enhancements to the rail network, now need to work their way into and through the DfT's new 5-stage Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline. Like most rail projects, they also have to go through Network Rail's 8-stage Governance for Railway Investment Projects process, GRIP. This too can be both long and slow. Without protection with the legal force of a Local Plan these linear assets can all too easily be destroyed by redevelopment. Therefore Railfuture consider that planning authorities should protect potentially valuable routes for which a business case has not yet been established and in 2001 published a leaflet For want of a Rail..... 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
  • Lines with one of the characteristics above but currently operated as a heritage railway, where public transport (rather than leisure) services could be offered with the agreement of the heritage operator - see preserved lines as public transport..
The South Derbyshire Local Plan sets a good example by protecting sites for potential stations at Castle Gresley, Drakelow and Stenson Fields on the Leicester - Burton freight route, now one of the first 10 winning bids to the DfT's Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund.

Coming soon

Schemes in progress include:
  • Crossrail is now expected to open in 2022, adding existing London Underground or Docklands Light Railway stations Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Canary Wharf, and Custom House to the national rail network
  • HS2. The 'Notice to Proceed' was issued on 15 April 2020 allowing construction to start.
  • Northern Line extension from Kennington on the Southwark/Lambeth boundary via Nine Elms to Battersea Power Station in Wandsworth. Construction started in 2015 with tube services planned to start in autumn 2021.
  • Barking Riverside extension of the Gospel Oak - Barking Overground service to a new station at Barking Riverside. Services are expected to start in December 2021.
  • Edinburgh Trams extension to Newhaven
  • Blackpool Tramway extension from North Pier to Blackpool North station (approved Nov 2017)
  • Midland Metro extensions to Wolverhampton city centre, Brierley Hill, Eastside and Edgbaston.
  • Peterborough bypass. Railfuture campaigned for grade separation at Werrington as part of the East Coast Upgrade, which will complete a strategic eastern spine route for freight, relieving the East Coast Main Line. Network Rail proposals in June 2014 included alternatives of a flyover or a dive-under. Start of work on the Werrington Grade Separation project was delayed from early 2017 to autumn 2018 and completion from early 2019 to 2021.
Let's keep them coming!

Railfuture campaigns have helped to put over 100 links and 500 miles of route (and more than 400 stations) on the map in the last 60 years. Buy the sixth edition of Railfuture's A-Z guide to line and station reopenings since 1960, Britain's Growing Railway, published in 2017, here.

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