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Restoring the rail network

Great Britain’s rail network is roughly half the size of the network 100 years ago. The pace of line closures, which started after the First World War, accelerated following a report in 1963 by Dr Richard Beeching, the then Chairman of the British Railways Board, entitled The Reshaping of British Railways. Following Dr Beeching’s report, the length of the county’s rail network fell by a third in 10 years.

The 2019 Conservative Party general election manifesto pledged to restore railway lines and stations closed during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s:

Connectivity is not just about the UK’s great cities. To help communities across the country, we will restore many of the Beeching lines, reconnecting smaller towns such as Fleetwood and Willenhall that have suffered permanent disadvantage since they were removed from the rail network in the 1960s.

In January 2020, the Government pledged £500million for the Restoring Your Railway Programme to deliver this manifesto commitment. In a press release at the time, the then Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that:

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.

As part of the Restoring Your Railway Programme, the DfT invited MPs, local councils and community groups in England and Wales to submit proposals to reinstate old services and restore closed stations. Scheme proposals are split into three categories:

  • The Ideas Fund. This including funding to support local communities to explore the options for restoring old lines and stations.
  • Advanced proposals. This funding is designed to support the reinstatement of old lines and stations which were already considered for restoration.
  • New Stations Fund. This is designed to support proposals for new stations, including the restoration of old sites.

Successful RYR bids

In June 2022 the Government published a Restoring your Railway Fund programme update, with details of all successful and unsuccessful bid schemes.

In total, the programme update lists 44 successful schemes, which are at different stages:

  • 23 schemes are being funded to develop a Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC), one of the earliest stages in considering a transport intervention.
  • 13 schemes, that have already developed an SOBC (either with funding from RYR or prior to the programme’s inception) are being supported to develop further.
  • 8 schemes are being delivered. Of these, the Dartmoor line between Okehampton and Exeter, has already reopened (in November 2021).

In oral evidence to the Transport Committee on 18 January 2023, the Rail Minister Huw Merriman said it will be necessary to “manage expectations” of the RYR programme, given there is a limited budget which “can’t deliver anything like the number of bids.”

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