Railway revival back on track

RAILWAY enthusiasts' dreams of restoring an historic link between two Suffolk towns could be put to the test later this year as planning applications are submitted to local councils.

RAILWAY enthusiasts' dreams of restoring an historic link between two Suffolk towns could be put to the test later this year as planning applications are submitted to local councils.

Two years ago Southwold Railway Society first put forward proposals to restore the narrow gauge railway that linked Southwold and Halesworth from 1859 to 1929.

The proposals caused huge controversy among environmentalists, landowners and local residents and the detailed plans were never submitted to either Waveney District Council or Suffolk Coastal District Council.

Society members were not put off, however, and after studying more than 300 letters opposing the plans, believe they have come up with a new route that addresses the main concerns.

It is being proposed that the £6.5 million project could be built in two phases and planning applications submitted before the end of 2005.

The new route largely follows the original proposal from Halesworth but bypasses Blythburgh to arrive at a new station with a park and ride facility for 400 cars at Spring Hill on the southern edge of the Henham Estate.

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The route then carries on further north than originally proposed to a new station at Wangford before heading across farmland to Reydon and Southwold.

The Southwold Pier station that would mark the end of the route is actually outside the town boundary in Easton Bavents.

"This route avoids the Hen Reedbeds entirely and obliviates the need for a level crossing on the main road into Southwold," says the newsletter.

The railway society says it has the support of nearly all the landowners on the new section and members give particular praise for Hektor Rous, of the Henham Estate, for his encouragement.

In the newsletter the railway society acknowledges the strength of feeling against the original proposals and in particular the results of a survey conducted by the East Anglian Daily Times.

The survey was the largest test of public opinion on the railway proposals with 959 people voting against the scheme and 500 in favour.

The steam locomotives that would run on the line would be powered by biodiesel that society members describe as an environmentally friendly non-polluting, non-fossil fuel that can be produced from locally grown crops.

As part of the project there would be four tunnels including one under the A12 road north of Blythburgh.

"Naturally, there will be ample opportunity for views to be expressed during the consultation that forms part of the application process," said the newsletter.

Opponents of the scheme were vociferous in their protests when the original scheme was first announced but later said they would wait until planning applications had been lodged before making further comment.

Southwold Railway Society engineer David Negus said: "We want to run a non-profit making public service with an effective park and ride scheme, and there is no doubt that steam railways are the most attractive form of transport for park and ride."

He said much of the funding would come from transport grants but it would be a minimum of three years before the railway was operating if it got planning permission.

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