Missing Links

Railfuture campaigns for railway lines to be opened or reopened, in alliance with other groups throughout Britain, have been a success. Over the past half-century more than 500 miles of route have been added to the network, gaining tremendous popular support. Clearly there is no prospect of reopening all the lines closed by British Railways, but in some places - where the economic factors that brought about their closure have changed - there is a need for new or reopened lines to meet the increasing demand for rail transport. Our new guide Expanding the Railways, which can be viewed or downloaded, will help stakeholders and campaigners navigate the process of gaining agreement to a new railway.

Railfuture is focussing on the following schemes which we believe will most support economic growth, and therefore offer the greatest chance of success. Earlier guidance was published in June 2009 by the former Association of Train Operating Companies in "Connecting Communities".

A Strategic Network

Alternative routes between major centres are needed to create additional capacity and resilience in the strategic network. The risk of single points of failure in the rail network has been cruelly exposed by the recent damage to the sea wall at Dawlish, which cut off south west England from the rail network for two months.

East West Rail is GO! as VIPs (including MP and DfT representative) stand in front of 'GO' (rather than 'Stop') sign on the mothballed route east of Claydon Junction. This photo was taken after they alighted from a Chiltern Railways special train to promote the reopening Oxford - Cambridge The first phase of East West Rail was approved on 16 July 2012 and a Joint Delivery Board was formed. Oxford and Aylesbury to Bletchley and Bedford will be reinstated. On 8 January 2013 Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan for 2014-19 confirmed their plans for the western section. Passenger services started running between London Marylebone and Oxford Parkway via Bicester Village as part of Chiltern Railway's Evergreen 3 project from 25 October 2015, and were extended to Oxford on 12 December 2016. Services between Oxford / Aylesbury - Bletchley - Bedford / Milton Keynes are planned to start by the early-2020s. While you're waiting, enjoy Let's go to London. This is a fantastic result for Railfuture - we are continuing to campaign to complete the project to Cambridge. A walk from Bedford to Sandy took place on 29 June 2013 to highlight the next phase.

One of Railfuture's major campaigns is the reinstatement of the Uckfield-Lewes railway line that was closed in the late 1960s. Subsequently Uckfield station was moved north to allow a level crossing to be abolished. Restatement will require a bridge at this point Uckfield - Lewes Railfuture is campaigning to support economic growth in East Sussex and Kent and reconnect communities by linking Uckfield and Lewes by rail. This could support sustainable housing growth to help meet Brighton's unmet housing needs. It would promote economic growth in East Sussex by providing access between the Weald and employment opportunities in Brighton, help regenerate Newhaven, create additional peak capacity between the South Coast and London to relieve the Brighton Main Line, and help maintain Brighton's visitor economy by providing an alternative, diversionary route between the Sussex coast and London.

  • Okehampton route. The first priority for the south-west must be to ensure that connectivity is maintained, both to Plymouth and the large number of communities between Exeter and Newton Abbot. Therefore Railfuture consider that the sequence in which enhancements are implemented should be to strengthen the existing route, then to reinstate the Okehampton route. The Okehampton route can be built incrementally: first by providing a regular Exeter-Okehampton service (which in January 2018 the Secretary of State for Transport instructed Great Western Railway to provide), then reopening Bere Alston - Tavistock; and finally by closing the 15 mile gap between Tavistock and Okehampton.

  • Transpennine routes are becoming congested, so additional capacity will be needed to meet demand. Work is required to determine which option best meets that demand:
    • Skipton - Colne The campaign group SELRAP propose the reopening of the Skipton - Colne line to connect the relatively depressed areas of Burnley and Colne via Skipton to Leeds and the Aire Valley and drive economic regeneration. An Outputs Definition Group has been set up, comprising six local authorities including Lancashire County Council, to promote the proposal. On 3 February 2018 the Transport Secretary announced a feasibility study, co-commissioned with Transport for the North, into the value of reopening the Skipton to Colne railway on a visit to Colne Railway Station.
    • Woodhead Once the Great Central main line to Manchester, the Woodhead Tunnel is now used for National Grid electricity cables.
    • Matlock - Peak Forest Originally the Midland Main Line to Manchester, part is now the Peak Rail heritage line.
    • On 23rd June 2014 George Osborne proposed the concept of a high-speed line linking Leeds and Manchester, using existing rail routes, to help create a 'northern global powerhouse'.

  • Heathrow southern access. The London Borough of Wandsworth and the Surrey County Council rail strategy both call for direct access from Surrey and south-west London to Heathrow. Various proposals including Airtrack and Airtrack Lite have been put forward but failed. The DfT has identified southern access as one of the first Never-never railways in their drive for private companies to invest in the rail network. Heathrow Southern Railway is a prime contender for this initiative. Railfuture advocate extending Heathrow Connect to Staines as a first step, followed by extension of Heathrow Express services to Woking and Guildford if HSR is built and when grade separation of the junction at Woking creates more capacity on the South West Main Line.

  • Peterborough bypass. Railfuture have been campaigning for grade separation at Werrington which would complete a strategic eastern spine route for freight, relieving the East Coast Main Line. Network Rail presented their proposals to local councillors and at public exhibitions in Werrington in June - these include alternatives of a flyover or a dive-under. If proposals are approved work is expected to start in early 2017 and be completed in early 2019.
Finally, HS2 will provide a step change in capacity to relieve the West Coast Main Line.

Metro services

As our cities grow, so there is a need for more capacity in their metro networks.

Image Bristol MetroWest Railfuture supports MetroWest proposals for more frequent services, reopened stations, reinstatement of the Portishead branch and quadruple track between Bristol Temple Meads and Filton, which will attract commuters out of their cars and ease congestion around Bristol. We are pressing neighbouring local authorities (Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire) to become more involved so that their rail aspirations are integrated with those of the West of England Partnership.

  • Cross-London links. Further cross-London links (and extensions to Crossrail) will be required after the Thameslink upgrade and Crossrail to provide the capacity required to meet the continuing increase in demand for rail travel and support economic growth. Crossrail 2 is proposed to link South Western and West Anglia inner suburban services by tunnel between Wimbledon and Hackney, supported by LondonFirst, with implementation expected by 2029. In the longer term, with implementation possible by 2039, Railfuture also advocate Thameslink 2 on a north - south axis via Docklands (given that central London is extending eastwards)to connect northeast with southeast London, relieve congestion at London Bridge and release capacity on the East London line, Jubilee line and Brighton Main Line.

  • Glasgow CrossRail. Using the existing line across Glasgow, via a new station at Glasgow Cross, to integrate services north and south of the Clyde. As well as opening up through journey possibilities within Glasgow and helping to regenerate the Glasgow Cross area, with major interchanges at Glasgow Cross and West Street, the link would also make longer journeys possible, such as a service from Dundee to Glasgow Airport.

Isolated towns

Growing towns which are isolated from the rail network can be hit particularly hard in an economic downturn; reinstating a rail link can promote economic recovery, and when the population is 20,000 or more a good business case can be made.

Railway route map produced by Railfuture showing how a reopened March-Wisbech railway line would connect with Peterborough, Ely, Cambridge and many other destinations March - Wisbech The catalyst for launching our campaign was the commitment of Cambridgeshire County Council in the Local Transport Plan to fund and carry out a business-case study for the reconnection. We organised an online and paper petition, attracting a huge response with 3784 signatures, to show the County Council evidence of support from local members of the public for the reconnection and thus encourage it to pursue the project through to its logical conclusion. The results of the County Council commissioned Stage 1 study have already been published and these show the line could be operated at a profit. A Stage 2 study has therefore been commissioned which will assess the capital costs. There have been positive statements of intent from within the splendid "Wisbech 2020 Vision" manifesto (PDF download) and from the Wisbech Member of Parliament Steve Barclay, who organised a Rail Summit of key stakeholders. At the rail summit Stephen Hammond, the Rail Minister, described the reopeing as a strategic priority. The campaign is specifically targeted at people in the local area who will directly benefit from the scheme. At 31,000 people in the built up area of greater Wisbech, this is one of the largest towns in the UK without a railway station - and the tracks of the 'mothballed' railway run right into the town! Also download our original March-Wisbech proposals and for further developments and information check the campaign website.

Map showing route of the former railway Skelmersdale branch line that once served a station in Skelmersdale Kirkby - Skelmersdale. In December 2012 a Merseytravel report proposed that an infrastructure study be undertaken by Network Rail in conjunction with local councils to define the scope of the project. The West Lancashire Master Plan (page 29) includes linking Skelmersdale to the rail network with a new rail station and bus interchange in the town centre. Services to Kirkby from Liverpool would be extended to Skelmersdale, and services from Wigan to Kirkby would be diverted to Skelmersdale, where a park and ride facility would also be established. The development is in the package of twelve rail priorities which make up the Liverpool City Region Long Term Rail Strategy published by Merseytravel in 2014. On 1st June 2015 Lancashire County Council approved £1m funding towards the GRIP3 evaluation, whilst in April 2016 it was reported that Lancashire County Council will invest £4.7m into the project over the next two years. On 18 September 2017 Merseytravel confirmed that it will be contributing up to £765,000, adding to £4.32m already set aside by Lancashire County Council to further build the case for both a new station at Headbolt Lane in Knowsley, and for a new railway branch line from Rainford to Skelmersdale town centre. Merseytravel electric services will be extended beyond Kirkby to Skelmersdale, where they will connect with Northern services from Wigan diverted from Kirkby.

Photo of a charter train at a station (showing destination as Ashington) promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line Ashington Blyth and Tyne Railfuture supports the SENRUG campaign to re-introduce passenger services on part of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne freight network, which will bring around 100,000 people in an area of high unemployment and poor transport links within reach of jobs and education in Newcastle. The business case is supported by robust Market Appraisal, Demand Assessment reports and a GRIP2 Feasibility Study commissioned by Northumberland County Council. On 11th October 2016 Northumberland County Council agreed to proceed to GRIP 3, setting out an ambitious timescale and saying trains could be running by early 2021. In February 2019 there were encouraging words from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during a visit. In September 2019 the County Council ran a public consultation on 'The Northumberland line'. Photo by John Brierley.

Flossie the dog on disused Levenmouth rail line, track in place, as used by walkers, halfway between Thornton and Leven - Jan 2015 Levenmouth The Levenmouth Rail Campaign seeks to restore rail services to the disused line between Thornton and Levenmouth, a conurbation with a population of 38,000 and a high level of deprivation, to provide access to job, training and leisure opportunities in Edinburgh and South Fife. On 8 August 2019 Michael Matheson, the Scottish Transport Secretary, announced the green light and £75m to reopen the route to passenger services.

  • Bere Alston - Tavistock. This is an example of a local authority taking the initiative, with the support of the local population, to reopen a railway line to meet a local transport need. Devon County Council has worked with Kilbride to raise funding from developers of new housing at Tavistock, and is progressing the business case and technical investigation of structures on the route for GRIP stages 2 and 3. On 9th July 2014 the council agreed to progress the detailed design and in August 2014 approved outline planning permission for the 750 home development which will fund the rail link.

  • Hythe has a population of around 20,000, and thousands of new homes are planned for the Waterside area. These communities are currently dependent on heavily dependent roads whilst the ferry service between Hythe and Southampton Port is threatened with closure as passenger numbers have declined due to its unreliability. A rail service between Hythe and Southampton on the existing freight branch would offer a much shorter journey time to the city centre than either the bus or the ferry.

  • Haverhill has grown five fold to a population of nearly 30,000 since the railway was closed, and the town is still growing. Roads and bus services to Cambridge are congested at peak times. Local group Rail Haverhill has started a petition to reinstate the 12-mile rail link from Cambridge, and distributed leaflets part-funded by Railfuture to publicise it. Greater Cambridge City Deal commissioned and recently published a Cambridge to Haverhill Corridor viability report giving an early, very pessimistic, estimate of the Benefit to Cost Ratio which Railfuture believe can be improved.

  • Sheffield - Stocksbridge. This is an existing freight branch. A study in 2010 found that a passenger service would be technically feasible; just one train could provide a half-hourly service. The aim now is to develop a viable business plan - in 2018 a heritage service has also been proposed.


Often reinstating or creating a new chord can create opportunities for new services which meet a latent transport demand.

Heritage railways

There are also opportunities for greater use and integration of preserved lines as public transport.

Route protection

Transport schemes take a long time to develop. Rail reopenings, like most rail projects, have to go through Network Rail's GRIP process, the Governance for Railway Investment Projects. This is a long slow process, and without protection these linear assets are easily destroyed by redevelopment. Therefore Railfuture consider that planning authorities should protect potentially valuable routes for which a business case has not yet been established. Characteristics which justify protection for a closed route include the following:
  • Short lines which link growing towns to the network
  • Duplicate lines linking major cities, which may be required to provide additional capacity in future
  • Lines which fill gaps in the network, eg Uckfield – Lewes
  • Lines with one of the characteristics above but currently operated as a heritage railway, where transport (rather than leisure) services could be offered with the agreement of the heritage operator.
The South Derbyshire Local Plan sets a good example by protecting sites for potential stations at Castle Gresley, Drakelow and Stenson Fields on the Leicester - Burton freight route.

Railfuture campaigns have helped to put 500 miles of route (and over 400 stations) on the map in the last 50 years. Schemes in progress include:
Computer-generated fly-through of the extension from New Street to Centenary Square due to open in 2019:

The further extension to Edgbaston is due to open in 2021.

Let's keep them coming!

Rail User Express Rail Action