The triumvirate that is Grant “Spiv” Shapps, Michael Green and Sebastian Fox has come up with a wizard wheeze to garner more votes for the Tory Party in next month’s General Election, without actually having to do anything in order to get them. Shapps and his alter-egos have devised the so-called Beeching Reversal Fund, which, by stumping up £500m, will allegedly restore the rail network to where it was in 1963.
Would you buy a used rail network from this man?
Except it won’t, and Shapps’ premise is so dishonest that he has already found himself laughed out of court. “Today we've announced a £500m Beeching Reversal Fund to start re-opening rail lines axed under Harold Wilson's govt. Ultimately this saw 5,000 miles of rail & 2,363 stations closed. Our plan will help re-connect towns & villages to the rail network” he declared, showing the rail networks of 1963 and 1984 as an example.
It was not long before Shapps was being reminded that Richard Beeching had been appointed head of the British Railways Board by Tory transport minister Ernest Marples, the original Minister For Roads, who had offloaded his principles, and his conscience, by “selling” his shares in his road building business to his wife. Beeching’s infamous report was published in 1963. The Beeching cuts were a Tory initiative.
Dr Richard Beeching - and That Report
Worse, £500m will not reopen very much railway: as Jon Stone has pointed out, “£500m will get you maybe one, very basic railway line. reopening the Borders Railway as a single track, unnelectrified line cost over £400m in today’s prices. to describe it as a Beeching Reversal Fund is a joke”. The Borders Railway in Scotland is part of the former Waverley Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle. But less than half of it.
Worse still, when it comes to providing funding that the rail network actually needs to expand capacity and meet demand, Shapps totally misses the point. Manchester’s Piccadilly station needs two new platforms at its south side. Shapps’ £500m won’t pay for half of that. Nor will it pay for half of the improvements needed to clear bottlenecks on the West Coast Main Line south of Stafford. Or part of the Western Link.
What that? It’s been on the drawing board for several years: turning Manchester Airport’s terminus into a through station, a new line passing under the Terminal 1 apron and linking up with the Mid Cheshire line, providing a fast link from Chester to the Airport and central Manchester. Shapps is aiming his funds at the wrong target.
The current rail network needs more capacity, and will need it even with HS2. Telling the voters to “look over there” at lines that were closed half a century ago, and whose infrastructure has disappeared beneath road schemes, industrial developments, housing estates and 50 years of undergrowth will not solve the capacity problem.
What will at least help many of those areas off the rail map is ensuring they have decent public transport - even if it is only a bus service. Shapps is proposing nothing to halt the decades of decline in bus services that another of his party’s Governments - that of Margaret Thatcher - precipitated when it deregulated buses outside London in the 1980s.
As so often, Tory transport policy is a series cheap gimmicks which have no purpose, designed to paper over decades of failure. We see you, Grant Shapps.
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