Rail lines which were closed during the notorious Beeching cuts in the 1960s could be reopened, the Transport Secretary has announced.
Chris Grayling said he wants to open up routes which would encourage housebuilding, ease overcrowding and boost the economy.
But Labour has dismissed the plans as “unambitious” – with transport campaigners warning it is “desperately difficult to reopen a rail line”.
Thousands of stations and hundreds of local rail lines were closed down between 1964 and 1970 on the recommendation of the then British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.
The Government’s rail strategy, which includes restoring lost capacity, is being published on Wednesday.
Image: Thousands of stations were axed at Dr Richard Beeching’s recommendation
Mr Grayling said: “Many commuter services are full and getting busier and passengers know how much pressure the network is under.
“We are already investing in the biggest modernisation of railways for over a century to help people travel more quickly and in greater comfort.
“But we need a new way of working to help our railway deal with the challenges it faces.
“We need to expand our network to unlock jobs and housing growth across the country.
“We’re already accelerating plans to reopen the railway line from Oxford to Cambridge.
“Now I want to see how we can expand other parts of the network to help make Britain fit for the future.”
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Image: Chris Grayling says reopening closed branches will boost the economy
The Department for Transport (DfT) has pledged to “accelerate” the reopening of the railway between Oxford and Cambridge.
Last week’s Budget confirmed Network Rail will be handed funding to deliver phase two of the western section of East West Rail, from Bicester to Bedford, and Milton Keynes to Princes Risborough, with plans to open in 2023.
The East West Rail Company will be set up as an independent entity to deliver the central section between Bedford and Cambridge to open in the mid-2020s.
Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said the plan to reopen lines is “more jam tomorrow from a Government which has run out of ideas”.
He said: “The Tories’ record is of delayed, downgraded and cancelled investment, huge disparities in regional transport spending and soaring fares that are pricing passengers off the railway.
“This unambitious strategy stands in contrast to Labour’s plan to upgrade and expand the rail network across the country.”
Image: Campaigners say reopening defunct railway lines is ‘desperately difficult’
Bruce Williamson, from campaign group Railfuture, welcomed the plans and said where lines have been reopened they have “generally speaking exceeded all expectations”.
Last year Mr Grayling said he wants publicly owned Network Rail to share its responsibility for running tracks with private train operators.
:: You can watch a live interview with the Transport Secretary about his plans on Sky News at 8.30am.