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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Guardian: Dormant lines could ease rail congestion, say campaigners (Dan Milmo)

An article from today's Guardian about a call for resurrecting dormant railway lines, such as Woodhead, by Dan Milmo:

The future growth of Britain's congested rail network, on which passengers make 1 billion journeys a year, is under threat from plans to dig up mothballed lines, MPs and green campaigners have warned.

Satisfying record demand for train travel will depend on the preservation of disused routes for new lines, according to a coalition of politicians and environmentalists who are fighting to keep the decommissioned lines. The government's recent rail white paper emphasised using only the existing network to meet predicted growth of 3% a year by 2014. However, passenger growth is increasing at double that rate, prompting warnings that dormant routes will be needed.

A political row is brewing over the Sheffield to Manchester Woodhead line, which shadows one of Britain's busiest rail routes and was taken out of service in 1981. The government has approved plans by National Grid to plant electricity cables in a tunnel in the Peak District, which would prevent the line from being reopened, campaigners say.

Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley, Manchester, expects more than 100 parliamentary colleagues to back his early day motion against the move. He said it would be "extremely difficult" to accommodate the millions of extra passengers on the railway by 2030 if disused lines were redeveloped. "If we are going to increase rail capacity we have to reopen lines like the Woodhead tunnel. Without doing that, we cannot reach any of the projections that the government is predicting."

Professor David Begg, of the Northern Way economic development group, said the future of disused rail infrastructure was "critical" in the economic future of the region. "If the Woodhead tunnel is not available it will cost dramatically more to build rail capacity across the Pennines."

Other disused lines campaigners want reopened are Oxford to Milton Keynes, the Leamside line in the north-east and the Lewes to Uckfield line in East Sussex.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said the government had no plans to reopen existing lines but "would not rule out strong proposals".

Read the original article on the Guardian website