Lazarus lines

The new station at Tweedbank.
Borders line is the latest of a series of reopenings that reverse earlier closures
Published Mon, 2015-09-07 11:05

With official opening on Wednesday of the borders line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in Scotland by Queen Elizabeth II (on the day that she officially becomes Britain’s longest reigning monarch), another of the many closures that followed the Beeching report of March 1963 have been reversed.




The new station at Tweedbank. © ScotRail02 - Creative Commons License

With official opening on Wednesday of the borders line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in Scotland by Queen Elizabeth II (on the day that she officially becomes Britain’s longest reigning monarch), another of the many closures that followed the Beeching report of March 1963 have been reversed.
Whilst the reopening of the northern section of the long-closed Waverley route is obviously a cause for some celebration, the story is not a wholly happy one. The current issue of Private Eye highlights some of the potential future issues — such as the design of replacement bridges — that may impact on capacity should the line be as successful as some of the other lines that have risen from the dead over the past 30 years.
Clearly preservation has resulted in the survival or revival of many lines, but it is the extension to the lines that form part of the National Network that have been a feature of the post-1980 period.
The gradual reduction in the passenger network that occurred from the 1920s accelerated from the late 1950s, through the Beeching era, into the 1970s. There have been losses to the National Network since then — most obviously in the transfer of lines on Tyneside to the Tyne & Wear Metro, of the Altrincham, Bury and Oldham lines to Manchester Metrolink and of the Wimbledon to Croydon line to Croydon Tramlink — but these losses are more than compensated for by the reopening of lines in most parts of the country.
In Scotland, apart from the Waverley route, the Argyle line in Glasgow was one of the earliest to reopen (in 1979). More recently Bathgate was linked to Edinburgh and this line was subsequently extended westwards to complete the link through to Airdrie and thus provide an additional through route between Scotland’s two main cities. Alloa was again connected to the passenger network when the link to Stirling reopened in 2008 (and there’s now pressure for the line to be extended eastwards to Dunfermline, particularly now that Longannet power station is under threat of closure).
In Wales, two lines have reopened in the valley. The first, to Maesteg, reopened in September 1992 whilst the second, serving Ebbw Vale, followed in February 2008 with an extension to Ebbw Vale Town station opening in May 2015.
Looking to England, there are a number of major revivals. These include the ‘Robin Hood’ line from Nottingham to Worksop that opened in stages between 1993 and 1998. To the north of Manchester, the line from Blackburn to Clitheroe was reopened fully in 1994 (the line had seen special, weekend and summer services prior to that date) and reopening through to Hellifield regularly is under consideration. In West Yorkshire, improved services between Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield and Wakefield have seen services restored to a number of ex-Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway lines In the West Midlands Birmingham Snow Hill reopened in October 1987 and the reopened line was subsequently extended through to Smethwick in September 1995. (The bulk of the ex-GWR main line to Wolverhampton Low Level was reopened as part of the Midland Metro as far as Priestfield.) Also in the West Midlands the line north from Walsall to Rugeley Trent Valley reopened in stages between 1989 and 1997. Coventry to Nuneaton, along with the station at Bedworth, reopened in 1988 and this line, along with the extension through to Kenilworth and Leamington Spa is currently receiving further investment. In London, the reopening of the Snow Hill Tunnel was the catalyst for the major investment in Thameslink, investment that will revolutionise railway travel from north to south through London when completed. Most recently, the Stansfield Hall Junction to Todmorden curve has been reinstated; this permits direct services from Blackburn to Manchester via Burnley to operate.
Looking to the future. Next month sees the expansion of the existing Oxford to Bicester service and its connection through to the Bicester-Marylebone line. Alongside this, work is in progress to provide through services to Bletchley and Milton Keynes from both Oxford and Marylebone over the mothballed ex-LNWR line and two possible routes for the line’s extension east from Bedford back towards Cambridge are also under active consideration. In the West Country, the Metro West project aims for the reintroduction of passenger services to Portishead and Henbury, west and east respectively of Bristol.
In addition to these line reopenings, there have been a myriad station reopened, often on the site of the original stations long closed or close by, with many wholly new stations opened to reflect the changing nature of passenger traffic over the past 30 years. Oxford Parkway, for example, is due to open in October; this is the first brand-new station to serve the city since World War 2.
With the opening to Tweedbank now completed, attention in Scotland is focused on other potential reintroduction of services. North of Aberdeen, the ex-Great North of Scotland Railway branches to Fraserburgh and Peterhead — now the towns furthest from the National Network following the reopening through Galashiels — are being heavily promoted and, in Fife, the lines to Leven and St Andrews have their supporters. The possibility of reopening from Tweedbank to Carlisle is also under investigation. And that’s just in Scotland; in Wales the long-closed line from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen is subject to a feasibility study, for example, and campaigners in England have seen Uckfield to Lewes, Skipton to Colne, Ashington to Blyth, Bere Alston to Crediton and many others rise up the political agenda.
Whilst it is impossible to turn back the clock completely, in years to come it is likely that the railway historians will look back on the last two decades of the 20th century and the early decades of this one and recognise that some of the more ill-conceived closures of the 1950s through to the 1970s have been successfully reversed. Lazarus lines indeed.