Commit £39bn to Northern Powerhouse Rail, leaders tell Boris JohnsonStefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Reversing Beeching cuts “would cost far more” than £500 million pledge

Boris Johnson has pledged £500m to reverse Beeching cuts. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A £500 million fund pledged by the Conservatives to restore rail lines and stations axed in the Beeching cuts in the 1960s “is not going to buy you very much”, a rail expert has warned.

More than 5,000 miles of track and nearly 1,500 stations were closed between 1964 and 1970, following a report by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.

The Conservative Party has pledged to establish a Beeching Reversal Fund to restore services to “many of the towns cut off” from the rail network.

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But Sim Harris, managing editor of industry newspaper Railnews, said reopening many of the lines which fell victim to the Beeching cuts would cost “billions”.

Asked about the £500 million fund, he told the PA news agency: “It is not going to buy you very much railway. A rebuilt railway costs millions for each kilometre.

“It depends what’s happened to the railway since it closed. If it’s still there, and it’s a matter of upgrading and reopening a freight line, that is the cheaper option, but you’ve still got to spend money on the stations.

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“It would cost far more than that [£500 million] to really reverse Beeching.”

The Conservative Party listed four potential projects that could benefit from the fund, but did not provide further details on how the schemes would be financed.

The candidates for a reopened or new line include: Ashington, Seaton Delaval and Blyth in Northumberland; Skelmersdale, Lancashire; Thornton-Cleveleys and Fleetwood in Lancashire; and Willenhall and Darlaston in the West Midlands.

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Labour’s Andy McDonald reacts

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed the announcement “isn’t new”.

In November 2017, then-transport secretary Chris Grayling said a new development programme would identify opportunities to restore some of the routes axed under Beeching.

Mr McDonald said: “The Conservatives announced it two years ago to try to distract from the collapse of the East Coast franchise, which ultimately cost taxpayers £2 billion.

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“Unsurprisingly, not one of the Beeching cuts has been restored.

“The Tories have broken their promises on rail time and again. In 2015 they promised electrification projects that were put on hold just months after the general election and then ditched.”

In February, the Campaign for Better Transport urged the Government to invest £5 billion in adding 33 lines and 72 stations to the rail network through re-openings, new projects and running passenger trains on freight lines.

It claimed this would bring more than half a million more people within walking distance of a station.

Beeching cuts

There were 4,347 stations and 34,150 miles of track before the Beeching report was published in 1963. Now there are 2,566 stations and 19,319 miles of track.

One of the last major re-openings of a line in Britain was the Borders Railway in September 2015.

The £294 million link between Edinburgh and Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders re-established part of the former Waverley line, which fell victim to the Beeching cuts.

In December 2016, Chiltern Railways began operating trains between London Marylebone and Oxford city centre on a newly established rail link, providing competition to Great Western Railway’s service between the cities.

The £320 million project included upgrading an old 20-40mph branch line to a 100mph main line.

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Sam Hewitt

Let off some steam...