Comments made by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and widely reported today suggest the he, at least, may finally have seen the light and realised that re-opening closed rail links to fast-growing towns and areas that have developed significantly over the past 50 years is far better value than committing infinite sums to HS2.
Particularly striking was a Grayling quote in The Times, where he goes further than any Government spokesman has ever done by declaring: “People say which is my priority: spend a billion pounds to shave a minute off the journey time or reopen some commuter lines so we get a better service for people? I would go for the latter any day of the week.”
It is hardly rocket science to suggest that a few hundreds of millions spent restoring routes such as those to Okehampton (pictured above), Portishead or Wisbech, as well as strategically important links like Skipton-Colne, Newcastle-Ashington and the long-awaited Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Line represent far better value for money than HS2.
Awaiting the long-overdue return of passenger services on the seven-mile route to Wisbech are these platforms on the north side of March station. Wisbech is a charming town with some remarkable Georgian architecture and is another compelling re-opening candidate.
What we need now is action not words: how can it really take another four years to re-open the three miles of route needed to put Portishead back on the railway map, for example? This route is intact, the case for re-opening is compelling, and a new station site has already been agreed.
My new book Railway Renaissance argues exactly what Grayling is now acknowledging, featuring all of the candidates listed today, along with many other worthy re-opening candidates. It is available from Amazon, Waterstones and from publishers, Pen & Sword.
Bedlington station, on the route from Newcastle to Ashington, remains remarkably well preserved despite having closed in November 1964, and still has manual signal boxes at each end of the station. On 20 June 2017, celebrity Class 66 loco 66779 “Evening Star” approaches Bedlington North Signal Box with a freight working from York to North Blyth.