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Larry Elliott makes very visible the damage done to many of the once thriving towns of England (Without Beeching there might never have been a vote for Brexit, 7 October). What is less clear is the enduring damage done by John Major’s rail privatisation and in particular the setting up of Railtrack, which then benefited from disposal of almost half of the land belonging to it and previously belonging to the country.
Short of compulsory purchase there seems no way to reinstate our much-needed rail system. The selling of rail land though is but a small part of the approximately £400bn sale of public land since 1979 and I would suggest that, while much of this isn’t very visible, it is and will continue to be the cause of growing resentment throughout the country as a whole.
Reopening closed railway lines is a thread that has run through transport history for the last 50 years or so. But the real mistake was not in closing the lines – after all, they were being used by very few people. The real error was in not protecting the line of route for potential future reuse.
Many lines that could have been economically reopened have been effectively lost because new roads, housebuilding and selling parcels of land off to homeowners and farmers has severed the corridor, making reinstatement much more difficult. With a little forethought new housing and light industrial developments could have been sited along these redundant lines which, when the economic case presented itself, could have had the track relaid and stations re-sited to be close to the new housing.
And yet Scotland seems to have little difficulty in reopening and electrifying closed lines and in Wales several ex-freight lines have been reborn. Only in England does this seem to present insuperable difficulties.
Hon president, Yorkshire Railfuture
This article first appeared on www.theguardian.com
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