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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Grant Shapps vows to 'undo the damage' of 1960s Beeching rail cuts with £500m fund to reopen axed lines

Grant Shapps vows to 'undo the damage' of 1960s Beeching rail cuts with £500m fund to reopen axed lines
2 min read

Ministers are pressing ahead with a £500m fund to restore a string of railway lines controversially closed in the 1960s.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will vow to "undo the damage" of the Beeching cuts by reopening some of the lines culled after a major report on the railways commissioned more than half a century ago.

But Labour branded the funds "meaningless" and accused ministers of trying to distract from the expected nationalisation of the Northern franchise.

The Department for Transport is already drawing up plans to reopen Northumberland's Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line and restore the Fleetwood route in Lancashire at a total cost of £1.6m.

Mr Shapps, who will visit Fleetwood to launch the fund, said: “Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.

"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 undone."

The DfT has asked local authorities and community groups across England and Wales to propose ways the £500m pot could be used to reinstate axed services, with the department saying it would also pump £20m into developing new stations and restoring old sites.

"The department will listen to proposals, prioritising projects that offer the greatest potential, viability and economic benefits," it said.

But Labour said the £500m allocated to the fund would pay for "just 25 miles of railway" to be reopened.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: "The Conservatives claim to have been reversing Beeching cuts since 2017 despite not reopening an inch of track.

"Investing in the railway is a fantastic policy but this is meaningless without a serious funding commitment of billions of pounds.

"The timing of this announcement is also suspicious and seems designed to distract from the imminent collapse of the Northern rail franchise."

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union meanwhile said: "RMT welcomes any investment in our railways but £500m is a drop in the ocean compared to what's really required to connect our abandoned communities and reverse decades of cuts to infrastructure and maintenance."

The pledge comes amid signs the Government is preparing to renationalise the Northern franchise after months of poor performance.

It is expected that the state-owned 'operator of last resort' will step in to run the services instead.