Conservative ministers are poised to renationalise the failed Northern rail franchise in a bid to stem the crisis in Britain’s privatised network.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, is expected to confirm on Wednesday that Northern will be removed from the control of Arriva and placed in the hands of the UK government’s “operator of last resort”.
South Western Railway is also under threat of renationalisation within the next 12 months after its accounts warned of significant doubt over whether Britain’s second-biggest commuter network could continue operating.
The Conservatives have been vehement critics of Labour’s plans to take the entire system gradually into state control, which they have criticised as 1970s-style dirigiste interventionism.
But the nationalisation of Northern rail would be the second such move by the Tory government in under two years, after the East Coast main line collapsed and was taken over by the operator of last resort in June 2018.
Historic rail cuts
It comes as the government presses ahead with plans to reverse historical rail cuts, despite critics warning its £500 million budget is not sufficient.
Shapps is due to visit Fleetwood on Tuesday with a pledge to give £100,000 towards a feasibility study into reopening the train line linking the Lancashire town to Poulton-le-Fylde.
The Fleetwood line was shut in 1970 as part of a ripping-up of Britain’s tracks, as recommended by the Beeching Report.
More than 5,000 miles of track and nearly 1,500 stations were closed between 1964 and 1970, following a report by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.
Another area that could benefit from the £500 million fund designed to restore passenger services is Blyth, with Mr Shapps granting £1.5 million towards generating ideas for re-establishing the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line in Northumberland.
The announcement comes after Blyth Valley elected a Conservative MP for the first time in its history at the December election.
Mr Shapps said: “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.”
Well short of the mark
Critics have previously warned that the £500 million allocated by the Government, a manifesto promise being acted on by Mr Shapps, was well short of the mark if all of Beeching’s cuts were to be reversed.
Sim Harris, managing editor of industry newspaper Railnews, told PA news agency that reopening many of the lines which fell victim to the Beeching cuts would cost “billions”.
One of the last major re-openings of a line in Britain was the Borders Railway in September 2015.
The £294 million link between Edinburgh and Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders re-established part of the former Waverley line, which fell victim to the Beeching cuts.
The Government also plans to open another round of bidding for setting up new stations, allocating £20 million to the initiative.
Two previous rounds of the scheme helped lead to the development of 10 new stations across England and Wales, said the Department for Transport (DfT).