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The Modern GWR

Fund our Heritage Railway Projects with government cash!

Railway enthusiasts are so used to being starved of good news stories from central government that we tend to just welcome everything that happens on the basis that it is a ‘good thing’ because it takes investment from the roads.

My question is: do we always want these big, sexy high profile investments if they result in other, perhaps more desirable projects, being neglected?  It was said a while ago that the cost of HS2 would be enough to pay for lovely new tram systems in all our major cities. Could one say now, with the announcement of the electrification project between St Pancras and Sheffield, that the cost might well pay to upgrade or reopen innumerable country stations that were lost in the 1960s?  I would start between Bath and Didcot.

There are also branch lines that could be reopened at a fraction of the cost of these projects. The one closest to me is the Portishead line, now freight only to Portbury dock but local estimates a while ago said it might not cost much more than £7 million to put back a station at Portithead and reinstate the junction to the docks. You could reopen Pill, Clifton Down, Ashton Gate stations and you would have not only a lovely line down to the seaside at Portishead that cyclists and walkers would use on a Sunday. You would have a valuable contribution to the hopeless and creaking Bristol commuter infrastructure.

But it’s just not very politically sexy, is it  It often seems as if our pathetically myopic politicians need the big projects as a sort of infrastructural viagra to make themselves feel important.  But thats just a cheap jibe that was fun to make.  Maybe it is just that the amount of adminstrative compexity that seems to be involved in railway schemes, the negotiatons with local authorities, with strategic groups, with local communities is so wearing and tiring that politicians can’t face doing it with small schemes. Best to have one blast at it, spend all the money in the budget and move on.

Probably that is not true either but it does feel as if nobody really sees local railways as being part of serious regeneration.  If you need proof that they are significant in just that, take a ride on the Welsh Highland Railway. They have received peanuts in comparison with these big mega-schemes but they can prove through their own university sponsored research that they have created thousands of local jobs in their communities as a side product from building their railway.

Maybe it’s time to give serious government money to heritage railways for regeneration purposes.  My railway, the GWSR, needs 2 miles of track to Broadway (increasing trade for tea shops and coach parties in the Cotswolds) and  another 3 miles to Honeybourne where a connection with Network Rail would open up the Cotswolds to lots of people in the Midlands.   It’s cheap because we work for nothing as volunteers, it will counter rural decline and provide leisure attractions all along the corridor it feeds.

You can’t tell me that is not a good use of government money.

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