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Could any closed East Anglian railway lines be reopened as the government seeks to ‘reverse Beeching?’

PUBLISHED: 16:30 30 January 2020 | UPDATED: 09:31 31 January 2020

The line between Sudbury and Cambridge closed in 1967. This picture was taken two years earlier. Picture: ARCHANT

The line between Sudbury and Cambridge closed in 1967. This picture was taken two years earlier. Picture: ARCHANT

The government has announced it wants to ‘reverse Beeching’ by reopening long-closed railway lines – and has allocated a £500m to look at possible projects. Two lines in northern England have so far been identified.

Wolferton station on the Hunstanton line is now a museum. Could trains ever return here? Picture: Ian BurtWolferton station on the Hunstanton line is now a museum. Could trains ever return here? Picture: Ian Burt

But are there any East Anglian lines that could in line for a resurrection if the government expands this programme in the years ahead? Today we look at some of the region's closed lines and assess whether reopening is possible.

Wisbech to March: If any East Anglia line could be reopened under this scheme, this must be top of the list. There is already considerable public support for the restoration of the seven-mile line and Cambridgeshire County Council is assessing the viability of reopening.

The track still exists (although it hasn't been used for nearly 20 years and would have to be replaced) and there are few physical obstacles although a new (probably very basic) station would have to be built at Wisbech. It would create a commuter route from the fenland town to Cambridge taking about 40 minutes for the journey.

Kings Lynn to Hunstanton: A campaign to reopen this line, which ran through the Royal station of Wolferton, has been gaining support but it would be a mammoth task. The line was lifted soon after it was closed in 1969 and whether a 16-mile line to a town with a permanent population of about 5,000 could justify what would be a very expensive project seems very problematic.

Could trains return to Wisbech? Picture: ARCHANTCould trains return to Wisbech? Picture: ARCHANT

Sudbury to Cambridge: Originally the Colchester to Cambridge route, most of this line closed in 1967 - leaving a short branch from Marks Tey to Sudbury which is still in operation today. There have been calls to re-open the entire Stour Valley Railway, but the track was lifted soon after closure even though much of its trackbed can still be seen and has been turned into popular walks.

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It is probably unrealistic to expect the whole line to be rebuilt, but there is a possibility that eventually a light rail system could link Haverhill, which was on the route, to Cambridge using part of the old trackbed.

Saxmundham to Aldeburgh: Half of this eight-mile line still exists, running through Leiston to Sizewell siding to service the power stations - although very few trains use it at present. Rebuilding to Aldeburgh is unrealistic, and although there have been suggestions of reintroducing a passenger service to Leiston, this has never been developed as a serious proposal.

Dr Richard Beeching, whose infamous axe made such cuts in the railway system in 1963. Picture: ARCHANTDr Richard Beeching, whose infamous axe made such cuts in the railway system in 1963. Picture: ARCHANT

Lowestoft to Great Yarmouth: One of the last lines to be closed under the Beeching cuts, the route has been built on in many places and reinstatement is not a serious possibility. If there was a real clamour to link the two major resorts by rail again, the chord at Reedham - creating a link through Somerleyton, Haddiscoe and Berney Arms - would be possible and reasonably low cost. But is there a market for such a service that avoids all the populated area by the coast?

The Norfolk Orbital Railway: There has been a suggestion of rebuilding the line from County School station, north of East Dereham, through Fakenham and Melton Constable to Holt bringing together the Mid Norfolk and North Norfolk heritage railways to run commercial rail services.

Whether this would be able to provide practical journey opportunities for anyone by keen rail enthusiasts is not clear. The North Norfolk and Mid Norfolk Railways are two distinct and successful heritage lines bringing tens of thousands of tourists to the area every year. Should they be allowed to continue to develop in their own way?

Braintree to Stansted Airport: The line from Braintree to Bishops Stortford closed long before the Beeching report was published, but there have been suggestions that part of it should be reinstated and a new link built to join up with the existing new line at Stansted Airport to provide a link to the airport from East Anglia - although that would also require the construction of a north-facing cord to the Great Eastern Main Line at Witham.

Cambridge to Bedford: This is the big prize - and a warning to anyone contemplating re-opening a rail line. It has been government policy to reopen the Cambridge to Oxford Varsity Line since the 1980s, and a campaign for its reinstatement started in the 1970s.

So far the line between Oxford and Bicester (which always remained open as a freight line) has been reopened - and the line to Bedford should be upgraded and ready for traffic by 2023. However a preferred route for the new line from Bedford to Cambridge was only unveiled this week and is unlikely to be realistically completed before 2030. That is 50 years since reopening was first mooted!


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