Transport secretary Grant Shapps is launching a £500 million fund today to restore rail services cut more than 50 years ago during the so-called ‘Beeching era’.

The cuts, which were initially proposed by then-British Rail chief Dr Richard Beeching in 1963, ended passenger services on around a third of the rail network. The reduction saw more than 2,300 stations and around 5,000 miles of track close across the UK.

To “kickstart” the restoration of services, the government is pledging £500 million, which Shapps said will help develop ideas put forward by local authorities and community groups for reinstating axed railways.

In addition, £1.5 million will be put towards re-opening the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line in Northumberland and £100,000 to the Fleetwood line in Lancashire. There will also be a fresh £20 million round of the New Stations Fund.

With thousands of miles of track in “various states of repair”, the government said it will consult Network Rail and train operators to ensure re-opening lines delivers “benefits to communities”.

Work to reverse the Beeching cuts has been ongoing, with a short stretch of line called the ‘Todmorden Curve’ re-opened in 2015 supported by £8.8 million of government funding. This restored services from Burnley and Accrington to Manchester. Ilkeston Junction Station was also re-opened in 2017.

Shapps commented: “Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.

“Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half a century of isolation is undone.”

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris added: “This is an exciting moment as we look to revitalise our railways, reconnect communities and reinvigorate our country. Local MPs, councillors and community leaders are the greatest champions of their local lines, and we want to work closely together to ensure the projects with the greatest potential have the support they need.”

The fund has received criticism from the Labour party, with shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claiming £500 million would only be enough to re-open 25 miles of track.

McDonald said: “The Conservatives claim to have been reversing Beeching cuts since 2017 despite not re-opening an inch of track. Investing in the railway is a fantastic policy, but this is meaningless without serious funding commitment of billions of pounds. The timing of this announcement is also suspicious and seems designed to distract from the imminent collapse of the Northern rail franchise.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, was also critical, calling the announcement “PR spin way out of control” and saying the £500 million “is a drop in the ocean compared to what’s really required” to reverse the cuts.

“This is a bare-faced attempt to distract attention from the daily chaos on Northern, South Western, TransPennine and Britain’s other basket-case franchises,” Cash added. “The first step is to end the chaos, profiteering and fragmentation of privatisation. Anything else is just window dressing and no one will be fooled.”

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