Persuasive case for 'un-Beeching' south west railway has national implications
CPRE argues that re-opening line between Plymouth and Exeter would revitalise rural communities and provide resilience against climate change
A week after trains ran on the Borders line in Scotland for the first time in almost 50 years, a new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has today found that the case for reopening rural railways in England is becoming irresistible.
Rural reconnections, produced by research group Greengauge 21, examines the case for reopening the Exeter-Okehampton-Tavistock-Plymouth route, closed in 1968 due to the Beeching Report. It finds that combining the benefit of a resilient diversionary route with those that result from linking up communities and businesses currently cut off from the rail network hugely strengthen the argument for reopening the line. Crucially, valuing these factors properly and taking better account of business losses when a network is temporarily disrupted  could have important implications for other lines that are candidates for reconnection elsewhere in the country.
The report also emphasises that such reconnections work best when routes link effectively into the national network, and when reopened stations are made into sustainable travel hubs with good cycling and bus connections.
CPRE is already concerned that year-on-year funding cuts to rural buses mean that large parts of the countryside will be cut off from public transport by the end of the decade. This creates huge challenges for young people to access training and jobs; for older people who no longer drive to access services; for businesses and tourism industries in areas without rail; and for carless city dwellers who want to reach tranquil countryside. This is supported by the findings of the Greengauge 21 research.
The Department for Transport is publishing new guidance at the end of 2015 about how to value the economic impact of transport investment. Up to now the needs of rural areas have been largely neglected. CPRE will be campaigning to make sure the needs of non-urban England are considered properly in future.
Ralph Smyth, transport campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), comments:
“This report underlines the many benefits that can ensue from reconnecting rural rail lines and have been ignored by previous evaluations. Many railways were cut back in the 1960s on the basis that they unnecessarily duplicated other routes. But we need them again now to create sustainable development in our rural communities and to provide resilience against extreme weather.
“Far from being an exercise in nostalgia, rail re-openings are vital to unlocking the potential of rural areas. It’s time for the Department for Transport to value these benefits, so that the countryside can have its fair share of investment. We need to reverse some of Beeching in the 21st century.”
Penny Mills of CPRE Devon comments:
“Large parts of Devon and North Cornwall have no trains. Reopening the railway from Exeter to Okehampton and beyond would make such a tremendous difference, unlocking local economies as well as making it easier for people to reach wonderful countryside.”