Missing Links

See A Strategic Network / Metro services / Isolated towns / Chords / Heritage railways / Route protection / Links success

Reversing Beeching

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
Railfuture welcomes the government's January announcement of funding for Reversing Beeching, and bid guidance. This is a successful outcome to a Railfuture campaign launched less than two years earlier! £500m will only be enough to reopen about 25 miles of railway at typical Network Rail costs, so this funding should be used at least in part as seed capital to prove the viability of potential schemes, draw in more funding from elsewhere, and establish a pipeline of projects. To utilise that funding efficiently, a streamlined approval and implementation process is required, not constrained by current Network Rail procedures. Our prime recommendations for missing links to be reopened include: Ashington Blyth & Tyne, Wisbech, Skelmersdale, Cowley, St. Andrews, Uckfield-Lewes, Skipton-Colne. Funding for East-West Rail, Portishead, Hoo, Levenmouth, had already been announced.
Photo of SENRUG Charter 2008 at Bedlington on the Ashington Blyth and Tyne route by John Brierley.
The further round of funding for new stations is also welcome, but the government must also make progress on market-led proposals, especially Southern Rail Access to Heathrow.

Railfuture submitted its candidates for the new Restoring Your Railway fund - the Ideas Fund, Accelerating existing proposals, and new stations - to the Department for Transport shortly before the 28 February 2020 closing date for the first round of bids to the Ideas Fund.
On 27 April the Department confirmed the second round of bids to the Ideas Fund required initial expressions of interest by 22 May followed by full applications by 19 June 2020.
On 23 May the Transport Secretary announced that 10 bids to the first round of the Ideas Fund had been selected to receive shares of the £500k fund - £50k each plus advice and guidance from DfT and Network Rail to help fund transport and economic studies and create a business case. Future funding to develop projects would be subject to agreement of the business case.
On 11 June the Rail Minister ran a webinar for the 50 unsuccessful bidders to round one. Around 20 which could deliver worthwhile benefits are being offered advice to develop their proposals further, for re-submission to the second June or third November round of the Ideas Fund. The remaining schemes need further development work to understand the best route forward, and bidders have been invited by the DfT to discuss next steps.
On 30 June the Rail Minister announced that 50 bids had been submitted to the Ideas Fund second round by 19 June.
On 2 July the DfT published the full list of 50 proposals.

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:
Rural reconnections: the social benefits of rail reopening - Greengauge 21 study for Campaign to Protect Rural England, 2015.
Beeching in reverse – the case for a programme of line and station re-openings by Paul Salveson of the Transport Research & Information Network, published 2001. Part-sponsored by Railfuture.
Branching Out – Railways for Rural Communities: a good practice guide by Paul Salveson of the Transport Research & Information Network, published 2000. “Indebted to the RDS for their assistance.”
The Social Consequences of Rail Closures by Mayer Hillman and Anne Whalley for the Policy Studies Institute, no. 587, published April 1980.

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.
  • 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'.

  • 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.

  • Peterborough bypass. Railfuture have been campaigning for grade separation at Werrington as part of the East Coast Upgrade, 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 2014 - these included alternatives of a flyover or a dive-under. When proposals were approved, work was expected to start in early 2017 and be completed in early 2019. Work actually began on the Werrington Grade Separation project in autumn 2018 and is now expected to take three years to complete.

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.
  • Okehampton-Plymouth route. The first priority for the South-West must be to ensure that connectivity is maintained, both to Plymouth and for 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-Tavistock/Bere Alston route. The Okehampton route can be built incrementally: first by providing a regular Exeter-Okehampton service (which in January 2018 the Secretary of State for Transport instructed Great Western Railway to provide), and reopening Bere Alston - Tavistock; then finally by closing the 15-mile gap between Tavistock and Okehampton. During 2020 it became clear that while a bid for Bere Alston - Tavistock had been submitted to the Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund the DfT were, in view of previous work on the scheme, considering it as part of 'Accelerating Existing Proposals'.
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: 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. A demonstration train, courtesy of Chiltern Railways, had run along the branch on 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 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 catalyst for launching our March - Wisbech 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 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 reopening 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 view or download our original March-Wisbech proposals, and for further developments and information check the campaign website.

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, setting out an ambitious timescale and saying trains could be running by early 2021. In February 2019 there were encouraging words from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during a visit. In September 2019 the County Council ran a public consultation on 'The Northumberland line'. In October 2019 the Northumberland line was included in DfT's new Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) at the step 2 'Develop>Design' stage, of 5. In January 2020 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps allocated £1.5m to development of the project when launching the Restoring Your Railway Fund. In May 2020 two major consultancies came on board to develop the project, following NCC's commitment of £10m. Survey works begin in June. Photo by John Brierley.

Map showing route of the former railway Skelmersdale branch line that once served a station in Skelmersdale Skelmersdale - Kirkby. 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 (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 previous Skelmersdale station was closed in 1956; just five years later Skelmersdale was designated as a New Town! 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. In 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. In September 2017 Merseytravel confirmed that it will be contributing up to £765,000, adding to £4.32m already set aside by Lancashire County Council to further build the case for both a new station at Headbolt Lane in Knowsley, and for a new railway branch line from Rainford into Skelmersdale town centre. 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.

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. In early-2020 Hampshire County Council submitted a bid to the DfT's Restoring Your Railway Fund. Enjoy the views from the cab in May 2017 on The Fawley Forester, from Southampton Central to Fawley Esso via Totton, and on the return journey. On 23 May the Transport Secretary announced that 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 fund. STOP PRESS: On 28 July a high-profile delegation visited; now WATCH the special train which ran along the branch carrying the chair of the DfT's Ideas Fund expert panel Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris plus panel member Sir Peter Hendy CBE Chair of Network Rail, the MD for South Western Railway Mark Hopwood, leading advocate Nick Farthing of Three Rivers CRP, and Rob Humby of Hampshire County Council which submitted the winning bid.

Bere Alston station, looking towards Tavistock Bere Alston - Tavistock. 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. Devon County Council has worked with Kilbride Group to raise funding from developers of new housing at Tavistock, and progressed the business case and technical investigation of structures on the route 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 which will 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 - in 2018 a heritage service has also been proposed.


Often reinstating or creating a new chord can create opportunities for new services which meet a latent transport demand.

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.
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.

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. Schemes in progress include:
Let's keep them coming!

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