15 July 2009

One small step in a very long journey

"The problem is that making any changes to the rail network is very difficult in today’s fragmented and privatised railway

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JessFM Photostream

Christian Wolmar:
The way forward?
Titfield Thunderbolt

Kilbride Community Rail

Plymouth Data
Tavistock Railway Station

Shillamill Viaduct, Tavistock (by Jess FM)
Shillamill Viaduct ©JessFM
BBC 25 June: Devon County Council has acquired the rights to some of the track bed on the old Tavistock to Bere Alston line, a tunnel and Shillamill viaduct. A deal has also been agreed for a developer to fund the track in exchange for permission to build about 750 new homes on the outskirts of Tavistock. However some landowners have not agreed to sell land needed for the upgrade. Devon County Council says the benefits of restoring the line, which in its heyday used to run from Plymouth to London, via Bere Alston, Tavistock and Okehampton, would include reducing traffic congestion and allowing visitors to access an area of outstanding natural beauty. The original Plymouth to Tavistock line was closed when Dr Richard Beeching was tasked with reducing Britain's railway network by a third in the 1960s. It now only runs as far as Bere Alston.

Video report by the BBC

The Bere Alston to Tavistock Community Rail Line project is being undertaken by  Kilbride Community Rail who are a specialist infrastructure developer.  The project involves an allocated site south of Tavistock and the re-instatement of the Bere Alston to Tavistock rail line.  Kilbride Community Rail will fund the entire project from the proceeds of residential development adjacent to the site.

While all of this sounds like a good idea, it is still a long way off! As the BBC report above says, some landowners have not agreed to sell, and would almost certainly object very strongly (and very expensively) object to any compulsory purchase of their land.
This is not the only obstacle though:

The problem is that making any changes to the rail network is very difficult in today’s fragmented and privatised railway. First, funding has to be found for opening the line but then, possibly even more difficult, there would have to be negotiations with the local train operator, the Office of Rail Regulation, Network Rail and, of course, the Department for Transport with legal contracts having to be drawn up and subsidy arrangements created.
Christian Wolmar.

Wolmars report linked to above is a detailed view of the problems facing the reopening of rail lines in this country. This is due to the way railways are funded, and also the centralisation of funding for our railways:

Here, everything is ultimately determined by the Department for Transport making decisions that affect people hundreds of miles away from Whitehall and it is no coincidence that it is in the devolved authorities that most reopenings have taken place.

In a further article he takes a closer look at the massive investment that is planned for our railways at the moment and what this means for all these branch lines that people want opened:

Therefore the idea of reopening a few branch lines while superficially attractive, does not fit in with the economic realities of today’s railways especially as it will not be the private sector stumping up the initial cost nor the subsidy needed to provide the trains. These branch lines will not serve the purposes they once did, of taking people from one village to the next, or even up to the market town. That age is gone and therefore spending £500m of a limited pot, rather than on, say, extra commuter trains or lengthening platforms, may not be wise.


There is, though, another way: a specially created company, Kilbride Community Rail, has been looking at paying for the reopening of lines by being allowed to cash in the potential profits from local developments which will sell for more if they are on a rail line. That would be genuinely entrepreneurial thinking…

So all is not lost, there is some hope that one day this line will reopen. There are many sceptics out there who don't believe it will ever happen, precisely because of the issues highlighted by Mr Wolmar and others. Kilbride CR does seem to have a way forward that might just work. I for one hope so!

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