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Persuasive case for 'un-Beeching' south west railway has national implications

16 June 2015

Meldon viaduct Meldon viaduct Photo: © Miles Wolstenholme

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 [1], 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 [2] could have important implications for other lines that are candidates for reconnection elsewhere in the country [3].

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 [4].

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.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

[1] Rural Reconnections: the social benefits of rural rail reopenings was researched for CPRE by Greengauge 21 with the support of Network Rail. Advanced copies are available from CPRE to accredited journalists. Greengauge 21 is a not-for-profit research group established in 2006, initially to promote a debate on high-speed rail in Britain and now with a broader role examining the development of the national rail network. Its publications are downloadable from www.greengauge21.net

[2] Rail is at much greater risk of landslips than roads, but there are fewer diversionary routes. While most major roads were built in the 20th century, most of the rail network was built in the 19th century, when there was limited experience of building major earthworks. According to a 2009 study by the Environment Agency, 20% of the rail network is at risk of flooding compared to 10% of major roads.

[3] Dead-end rural railways that could be considered to be reopened fully as through routes:

  • Uckfield to Lewes (Sussex) – alternative between Brighton and London
  • Alton to Winchester (Hampshire) – alternative between Southampton and London
  • Bourne End to High Wycombe (Buckinghamshire) – alternative between North Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire to London
  • Stansted to Braintree (Essex) - alternative between Cambridge and Suffolk/Essex
  • Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire) to Honeybourne (Worcestershire) – alternative between Birmingham and Oxford
  • Hadfield (Derbyshire) to Penistone (South Yorkshire) – alternative between Manchester and Sheffield
  • Harrogate to Northallerton (North Yorkshire) – alternative between Leeds and North East: while the existing line is not technically a dead-end, it does go round in a circle.
  • Colne (Lancashire) to Skipton (North Yorkshire) – alternative between Manchester/Leeds and Settle
  • Carlisle (Cumbria) to Tweedbank (Scotland) – alternative between northern England and central belt of Scotland.

Railway dead ends at Bicester and Aylesbury are already planned to become through routes to Bedford again on the completion of the East West Rail project in March 2019, then beyond to Cambridge.

[4] Response to the Transport investment and economic performance report

If you would like to talk to Ralph about this in more detail then please contact Ben Halfpenny or Jane Seymour on 020 7981 2819.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) fights for a better future for the English countryside. We work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance a beautiful, thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy. Our members are united in their love for England’s landscapes and rural communities, and stand up for the countryside, so it can continue to sustain, enchant and inspire future generations. Founded in 1926, President: Sir Andrew Motion, Patron: Her Majesty The Queen. 

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