When shall these towns meet again?

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. 

Comment as guest

Login  /  Register


  • James Miller - 17/03/2017 13:45

    I do wonder about some Councils. There is a good plan like this one and they can't seem to get interested. I haqve been taking to another group with the same problem. A few years ago, I could understand the train operators being relucytant, as they had to scratch around for roilling stock, but now they seem to be more enthusiastic, as perhaps having a 156 shuttling on a new branch bringing passengers to the main line is profitable, provided someone else pays for the infrastructure. It does seem to me that this line should be reopened.

    Reply as guest

    Login  /  Register
    • Ian Vallender - 24/03/2018 11:06

      with the Gloucestershire warwickshire railway opening a new station at Broadway next weekend 30th march I don't know how far they have to go to get to the br tracks at honeybourne as far as laying track. What I do know there were atleast two stations between broadway and honeybourne.

      Reply as guest

      Login  /  Register
  • Graham Newbury - 02/04/2017 16:07

    I do not know when this article was written, but the Oxford to Worcester line has been put back to double track except from Evesham to Norton Junction, just short of Worcester. Incidentally, this is the site for Worcester Parkway: a scheme which has been around for many years. I wish all of these schemes, which will ease the travelling burden, the best of luck.

    Reply as guest

    Login  /  Register

RAIL is Britain's market leading modern railway magazine.

Download the app

Related content