Two rail lines shut in 1960s will reopen as £800million is pledged

Two rail lines shut in 1960s will reopen as transport officials put £800million towards Bicester-Bletchley and Newcastle-Ashington projects

  • Department for Transport said £760m will support next phase of East West Rail
  • Reinstates services between Bicester, Oxfordshire and Bletchley shut in 1968
  • £34m boost is also going to old line between Newcastle and Ashington 

Two projects to restore rail routes closed more than 50 years ago have been awarded £794 million of new funding.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said £760 million will support the next phase of East West Rail to reinstate services between Bicester, Oxfordshire and Bletchley, Buckinghamshire for the first time since 1968.

A scheme to reopen the Northumberland Line between Newcastle and Ashington – which closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts – will be given £34 million to boost its development.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is also urging local authorities, MPs and community groups to submit bids for a share of the third and final round of the DfT’s Ideas Fund to support plans for new routes and reinstatements.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said £760 million will support the next phase of East West Rail to reinstate services between Bicester, Oxfordshire and Bletchley, Buckinghamshire for the first time since 1968

A map showing the British Railway network before and after the controversial Beeching closures of the early 1960s

He said: ‘Restoring railways helps put communities back on the map and this investment forms part of our nationwide effort to build back vital connections and unlock access to jobs, education and housing.

‘Returning these routes to their former glory, and progressing work to reopen even more lines and stations, shows our commitment to levelling up journeys across the country as we build back better from the pandemic.’

East West Rail will boost connectivity between Oxford and Cambridge, and is expected to stimulate economic growth and serve new housing developments.

The section between Bicester and Bletchley will include the construction of new stations at Winslow and Bletchley, as well as enhancements to existing stations on the route.

By 2025, two trains per hour will run between Oxford and Milton Keynes via Bletchley.

Simon Blanchflower, chief executive at East West Railway Company, which is overseeing the project, said: ‘We are delighted that the Government has shown a big commitment to East West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Arc with today’s investment decision.

‘This funding will enable us to get on with the construction work that will connect communities who live on the East West Rail link.’

Dr Richard Beeching, (pictured) then the chairman of the British Railways Board, closed more than 4,000 miles of the network – mainly branch lines – in an efficiency drive

The investment in the Northumberland Line will fund preparatory work including land acquisition and detailed designs.

Plans include new stations at Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval and Northumberland Park, as well as track upgrades and modifications around level crossings.

Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson said: ‘This is absolutely fantastic news and means we can now finalise our plans to deliver this transformational project for both Northumberland and the wider region.

‘The Northumberland Line will bring a huge boost to the area in terms of economic growth, housing, employment and education opportunities, as well as providing a fast and efficient new transport link between the south-east of the county and Tyneside.’

Dr Beeching: The civil servant who shut 4,500 miles of British railway

Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of the British Railways Board holding The Reshaping of British Railways report

British Rail was losing £140m a year when Dr Richard Beeching took over as chairman of the British Transport Commission.

His solution, announced on 27 March 1963, was to ‘make railways pay’.

Dr Beeching wrote two reports proposing cuts to British Railway services.

The first was entitled The Reshaping of British Railways and published in 1963. It was based on a survey carried out over one week in April 1961.

A third of the route surveyed carried only one per cent of passenger and freight traffic.

The second report in 1965 was called The Development of the Major Railway Trunk Routes.

The first report suggested that 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles of railway line should be closed – accounting for 55 per cent of stations and 30 per cent of route miles.

The Conservative government welcomed the report, but British people living in rural areas were against the plans.

Following the reports 2,128 stations and more than 67,000 British Rail jobs were cut. More than 4,500 miles of track was lost.

Closures stopped in the early 1970s and nearly 30 stretches of railway have since been reopened, including the line between London and Swanage in Dorset.

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