Railway reopenings seem to have been in the ascendency of late, as continuous year-on-year growth in passenger numbers increases the pressure on an already congested rail network.
The need for extra capacity has therefore long been a priority for both Network Rail and train operators, as they search for diversionary routes, increased network resilience, and ways to reach new markets as our towns and cities continue to expand.
The end result is sometimes a strong economic case for a new railway, such as London’s Crossrail. But more often it merely requires a reversal in the fortunes of routes deemed uneconomical in the 1960s, and subsequently lost to the notorious Beeching cuts set in motion more than five decades ago.
The statistics speak for themselves. In 2015 the Borders line became one of the dozen-or-so new passenger lines to open since 2000, while the Campaign for Better Transport lists more than 200 currently active proposals for introducing passenger services on either closed lines or those that have become freight only.
But despite the growing need for reopened connections, the lack of regional (and often overstated local) benefits render many of these proposals unfeasible. The situation is made worse by the mounting cost of replacing or putting back infrastructure lost in the intervening decades, as well as the need to find complex engineering solutions to circumvent new developments that now encroach on original alignments.
The inherent difficulty in accurately predicting future demand or achieving certainty in cost has also created a climate of caution within Network Rail, and within the local authorities whose promotion of such schemes is vital if they are to secure funding, as you are about to read.
Despite these barriers, most campaigners will almost always tell you that their cause is a ‘no-brainer’. The schemes that will actually constitute ‘no-brainers’ are supposed to be established by Network Rail’s eight-stage GRIP process (Governance for Railway Investment Projects, see panel page 88), whereby NR can perform a SWOT analysis by assessing feasibility, funding and engineering options prior to committing to executing a final project brief.
For a good grounding in what GRIP entails, RAIL 816 reported on how the long and well-organised campaign to reopen the 11-miles of closed railway between Skipton and Colne has been trying to fulfil NR’s GRIP criteria, as it moves closer to the delivery phase.
The latest campaign to be described as a ‘no-brainer’ is the case to reinstate the short eight-mile route between Stratford-upon-Avon and Honeybourne, which becomes glaringly obvious when considered in not just a local, but also a regional or even national context.
In addition to the connectivity it will bring to the world-famous tourist destination of Stratford and other parts of south Warwickshire, a quick glance at the surrounding rail network will demonstrate its obvious potential as an additional and much sought-after direct route between London, Oxford and the UK’s (traditionally regarded) second city of Birmingham.
The value of this was never more apparent than in February 2015, when a 350,000-tonne landslip near Harbury closed the Chiltern Main Line between Banbury and Leamington Spa for six weeks (RAIL 768). It cut off the entire West Midlands from direct access to the Thames Valley, and left the West Coast Main Line as the only route into the capital before full services were able to resume.
Arguably the Stratford-Honeybourne route should never have been closed in the first place. Having survived the Beeching axe of the 1960s, it finally shut in August 1976 in the most unfortunate of circumstances, following the derailment of a heavy coal train at Winchcombe.