A new £500 million fund has been made available by the British department of transport to develop better rail connections for communities hit half a century ago by the Beeching cuts.
The cuts, which were initially proposed by British Rail chief Richard Beeching in 1963, ended passenger services on around a third of the rail network.
The move saw the closing more than 2,300 stations and up to 5,000 miles of track across the UK.
British prime minister Boris Johnson pledged to begin reversing the cuts late last year, with plans now unveiled.
Speaking on a visit to the Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde line, where Johnson announced the policy in November, transport secretary, Grant Shapps, launched the new investment that will drive forward the reversal of the controversial Beeching cuts.
The Fleetwood line was closed in 1970.
To launch the reversal scheme, the government is also giving funding to develop proposals for re-opening two lines in the near future:
- £1.5 million to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne Line in Northumberland.
- £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire.
However, the Labour party was quick to question the scale of the investment.
Andy McDonald, Labour shadow transport secretary, responding to Grant Shapps’ rail announcement, said: “The funding pledged by the government would reopen just 25 miles of railway.
“The Conservatives claim to have been reversing Beeching cuts since 2017 despite not reopening an inch of track.
“Investing in the railway is a fantastic policy but this is meaningless without a serious funding commitment of billions of pounds.
“The timing of this announcement is also suspicious and seems designed to distract from the imminent collapse of the Northern rail franchise.”
The figures are in contrast to the £100 billion currently being mooted as a budget for the development of HS2.
Shapps said: “Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago.
“Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.
“Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish, and more than half a century of isolation is undone.”
He added: “Recognising that not all growing towns can re-open previously existing stations, and that some areas may never have been served by rail, the government is also announcing a fresh round of the New Stations Fund.”
Two previous rounds of the scheme have already helped develop ten brand new stations across England and Wales.
The new round will be allocated £20 million.
Shapps invited MPs, local authorities and community groups across England to come forward with proposals on how they could use funding to reinstate axed local services.
The £500 million fund will help develop these proposals, and accelerate the delivery of schemes that are already being considered for restoration, making possible the rapid reopening of certain stations and lines.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT was similarly sceptical about the plans.
“RMT welcomes any investment in our railways but £500m is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s really required to connect our abandoned communities and reverse decades of cuts to infrastructure and maintenance,” he said.
“The first step is to end the chaos, profiteering and fragmentation of privatisation.
“Anything else is just window dressing and no one will be fooled.”
The thousands of miles of railway that were axed under the Beeching cuts are in various states of repair.
Some still maintain freight services, some sit unused and overgrown whilst others have been built over or converted to cycle routes or pathways.
The government will also consult Network Rail and train operators which will be instrumental in delivering the benefits to communities.