Track and signalling

13.02.19

New Forest railway line proposed despite criticism for ‘pie in the sky’ idea

The construction of a New Forest railway line and the reopening of stations closed in the ‘Beeching cuts’ has been recommended, but a local MP has dismissed plans as “pie in the sky.”

A detailed costing for a raft of rail revivals has been put forward by Campaign for Better Transport (CFBT), focusing on a new railway line from Brockenhurst to Ringwood.

It argues that reopening railway stations, including some of which fell in the Beeching cuts to the national railway in the 1960s, should be a “national priority” to help combat poverty, congestion, and climate change.

But New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne asked: “Who is going to pay for it – and is there really an economically sustainable demand for such a service?”

The MP questioned the report’s credibility and called it a “lovely idea, but pie in the sky.”

Barry Rickman, leader the New Forest District Council, echoed Swayne’s scepticism and said it was unlikely to happen.

“It’s an imaginative idea but there are so many hurdles that would have to be overcome before it became a reality.”

The report proposes several options alongside the new rail line, including reintroducing passenger services on the freight line between Totton, Hythe, and Fawley and a tramway style line along Weymouth quay in Dorset.

The CfBT said: “Reopening railways has the potential to transform communities. For both passengers and freight, rail is a high-quality national transport network that can give people access to a wealth of social and economic opportunities.”

Local councillor David Harrison said: “I’m delighted the CfBT has recognised the potential the Waterside line has for running passenger services. An organisation like this has the ear of government, so makes investment more likely.”

But any application to build a new rail line would need the approval of the New Forest National Park Authority, and its executive director of strategy and planning Steve Avery also stated his reservations.

He said that since the rail network in the area closed 50 years ago, much of the route has returned to the landscape and become a haven for wildlife, with other sections being incorporated into walking and cycle paths.

The push for a new rail line comes as Bournemouth, Poole, and Christchurch councils prepare to merge and form an area dubbed ‘Urban Dorset’ – which the CfBT says will mean new and better rail links will be even more important.

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