The country may be in dire straits at the moment, but fortunately the government is pressing ahead with its Restoring Your Railway initiative by announcing the ten successful bids in the first round of the Ideas Fund on 23 May 2020. A common factor of the successful bids, if delivered, is that they will connect significant numbers of people to the rail network. Ilkeston Station was successfully reopened in 2017 – after 40 years of Ilkeston being the largest town in England without any train service. Image by Ilkeston Advertiser.
The government launched the Restoring Your Railway initiative for England and Wales on 28 January 2020 in response to our campaign for a Rail reopening fund. Two projects were pre-selected:
- restoring passenger services to the Ashington Blyth and Tyne freight line, connecting an area with a population over 100,000 to Newcastle. £5m has been awarded to develop the initial phase of this project, with a further £10M from Northumberland County Council, moving it forward from Stage 2 of the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline
- restoring passenger services to the mothballed Fleetwood line. £100k was awarded towards a feasibility study that will look at options for reopening the railway and create a business case. There is a possibility of using tramtrains which could run through on to the Blackpool tramway to both provide through journeys from Fleetwood and Cleveleys to Preston and new local journey opportunities. This could be the first phase of a light rail loop (promoted by Paul Maynard, a local MP and former rail minister) including the South Fylde line, providing through journeys to Preston and enhanced frequencies.
The Department for Transport received sixty bid submissions, sponsored by MPs. The panel appointed by the DfT to assess the bids, chaired by Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris and including Network Rail Chair Sir Peter Hendy, had planned to hear presentations by each bid team. The successful bids were expected to be announced by end April, but due to the lockdown the selection process had to be conducted virtually so the announcement of the ten successful bids for the Ideas Fund was delayed until now.
The successful ten are to gain £50k funding plus advice and guidance from DfT and NR to help fund transport and economic studies and create a business case. The business case will have to be good enough to attract further funding for development and implementation.
One of the key selection criteria is that the proposal could potentially be delivered by 2024 (before the next general election) so almost all the successful bids are relatively simple – either new stations, expanded services, restoring passenger services on existing freight or heritage lines, or reinstating a short branch line:
- reopening Meir station in a large suburb of Stoke-on-Trent on the line between Stoke-On-Trent and Derby. Large local population should ensure high usage but on double track so will be expensive
- restoring passenger services on the Barrow Hill freight line between Sheffield and Chesterfield. The only population centre on the route is Killamarsh (population 9,945); Killamarsh station was between there and Halfway, the end of the Supertram route. Stations could also be reopened at Eckington, Barrow Hill which is about 1.5 miles from both Staveley (18,247) and Brimington (8,788), and Whittington. Diverting some passenger trains to Sheffield via this route may relieve the line through Dore and so increase the capacity of the Hope Valley route
- restoring passenger services on the Ivanhoe freight line between Leicester and Burton. This needs an imaginative solution for the connection at the Leicester end to achieve a business case, so unlikely to be deliverable by 2024
- restoring passenger services on the Newport and Ventnor branch lines in the Isle of Wight. This requires solutions to working with the heritage railway using the Newport line, and to co-existing with the Southern Water water main which uses the tunnel to Ventnor
- reinstating the Bricket Wood passing loop on the Abbey line between St Albans Abbey and Watford Junction, to enable half-hourly services. This misses but does not preclude the opportunity for light rail conversion to attract more users by providing journeys to the town centres
- reopening Wellington and Cullompton stations. These stations will attract passengers from a wider area than Wellington and Cullompton (population 14,500 and 8,500 respectively) themselves to justify the delay to existing passengers on stopping services
- restoring passenger services on the Bury-Heywood-Rochdale line, which is used in part by the heritage East Lancashire Railway. This fits with plans for regeneration by Rochdale Development Agency, which is proposing light not heavy rail. It is not clear whether services would share the ELR station or link with the Metro.
- reintroducing daily passenger services on the Clitheroe to Hellifield railway line. This should be the easiest on the list as Summer Sunday services already run from Manchester on to the S&C. FoCSL has the ambition of a 7 day a week service from the S&C to Manchester, including at commuter times, and services will also provide access from Manchester to the Yorkshire Dales for leisure traffic. Capital investment should not be needed unless more redoubling of the Ribble Valley line is needed
- reinstating rail access to Devizes (population 11,715) via a new parkway station near Lydeway, 3 miles from Devizes, on the line between Newbury and Westbury. Former local MP and rail minister Claire Perry had called for this. The station must attract passengers from a wide area to justify the delay to existing passengers on stopping services
- restoring passenger rail services on the Waterside line between Fawley and Southampton to serve major planned housing development at Hythe. The key is integration with existing services.
Accelerating Existing Proposals
The Ideas Fund is of course just the hors d'oeuvre – the main course will be Accelerating Existing Proposals. Bid submissions may include the following from the Department for Transport's Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP):
- Robin Hood line extension to Ollerton (Stage 2 of RNEP)
- East-West Rail Western section phase 2, which is already funded (Stage 3 of RNEP)
- Metro West / Portishead, which is already funded (Stage 3 of RNEP)
- Skipton-Colne, which is only at stage 1 of RNEP so unlikely to be deliverable by 2024
A new round (the third) of the New Stations Fund is also being run, with the closing date for submissions of 19 June 2020.