Plans to reopen the former branch line to Fawley (Hampshire) for passenger services have taken another step forward… but have also been scaled back.
Regular passenger services have not operated along the branch since 1966, but could return in 2025.
Network Rail is taking forward a scheme to reopen the line, with local residents set to be consulted this spring. However, the southern part of the eight-mile route, also known as the Waterside Line, will no longer feature.
The original idea was to reach a new park-and-ride at Hardley - just outside Britain’s largest oil refinery, on the site of a former halt for refinery workers. Instead, plans two miles shorter will be developed for services to a new station at Hythe.
The original Hythe station still exists, but the platform was removed in the 1970s and the site is well away from the town centre. A new single-platform station is now proposed behind Hythe’s library car park, where the railway passes on a steep embankment.
The aim is for a single two-car 35-year-old Class 158/9 diesel shuttle running every 30 minutes to a bay platform at Southampton Central. A more ambitious idea of a battery-powered train, recharging on the third rail between Totton and Southampton, was suggested by previous South Western Railway Managing Director Mark Hopwood two years ago. That appears to have been quietly shelved.
Even so, the progress still pleases local commuter Mark Clark, director of London-based MTI Network, who travels to the capital several days a week.
“It would be brilliant,” he said. “I would walk half a mile to the station, get on the train to Southampton, then straight to London. Much easier than at the moment, with a lot less waiting around. This would very obviously become the quickest and easiest way of getting to the office.”
Annamarie Compton, head of consents and environmental planning for Network Rail’s Southern Region, told RAIL: “We are looking to restore regular passenger services to the Waterside Line.
“Over the next several months, we will be building our proposals to submit a full business case to the Department for Transport at the end of the year, with a prospect of getting a decision to go by early 2024.
“We are looking for a Transport and Works Act Order, which takes a year at least.
“What has driven this now is that the Waterside area has seen a lot of growth - and is set to see more. The local road network is very congested. The population increase and the congestion are driving the need for an alternative to the A326 road.”
To read the full story, see RAIL 954.