Page last updated at 07:26 GMT, Monday, 5 April 2010 08:26 UK

Lib Dems plan rail expansion by cutting road projects

Norman Baker: "These small sections... can provide signifcant benefits"

The Liberal Democrats have set out plans to reopen thousands of miles of railway tracks and stations.

The scheme would be funded by cutting capital spending on roads by £3bn.

Its new Rail Expansion Fund would lead to the biggest expansion of the rail network since the Victorian era, the party claims.

Research group the RAC Foundation said it would be a waste of taxpayers' money when only 7% of UK journeys were made by train, compared to 90% by car.

However, Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker said the plan would "make our railway great again".

Councils and transport authorities could bid for money from the Rail Expansion Fund to improve, reopen or establish services.

Although exact decisions on which services could be expanded would not be made until bids were received, the Lib Dems have drawn up a list of schemes which could be suitable for early delivery.

High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st-century rail network Britain needs
Norman Baker, Lib Dem transport spokesman

These include the electrification of lines from Manchester to Liverpool, Leeds and Preston; from Birmingham to Bristol and Basingstoke; and between Leeds and York.

New or reopened stations could be funded in Ilkeston, Kidlington, Wantage, Corsham, Tavistock, Middlewich, Ashington, Blyth, Washington and Skelmersdale.

New lines could link Southport with Preston, Bournemouth with Ringwood and the Midlands main line with the Birmingham-Derby route.

And track could be reopened between Exeter and Okehampton; Tavistock and Plymouth; Penrith and Keswick; and Galashiels and Carlisle.

The policy announcement by the Lib Dems comes a month after the government outlined its plans for a new high-speed rail network, featuring 250mph trains, which would include a new line between London and Birmingham, with future extensions planned to northern England and to Scotland.

At the time, the Conservatives said that if they were elected to power, they would start work on the project in 2015 - two years earlier than the government's plan.

Revitalise railways

But in launching the Lib Dems' plans for the railways, Mr Baker criticised both of their major rivals.

Mr Baker said: "Labour has allowed the railways to wither on the vine and punished passengers with huge fare hikes while more polluting forms of transport have got cheaper.

"All the while, the Tories have been sharpening the axe they will take to the transport budget.

"High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st-century rail network Britain needs."

The Lib Dems would cut the government's major roads project for the years up to 2013/14 by 90% and divert almost £3.5bn to rail, according to Mr Baker.

Some £480m - currently intended for projects like motorway widening and hard shoulders - would go towards the Lib Dems' existing policy of cutting rail fares.

The remaining £2.95bn would go into the Rail Expansion Fund.

RAC Foundation Prof Stephen Glaister said: "To start cutting the roads budget to expand rail services is unlikely to be the best use of scarce taxpayers' money either in financial terms or by way of serving the vast majority of the population.

"The public liability does not just end once new lines are constructed. Rail services are heavily subsidised by the Exchequer."

Prof Glaister said building roads could also help the environment because steadily moving traffic produced less carbon dioxide than cars stuck in traffic jams.



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SEE ALSO
High Speed Rail statement
11 Mar 10 |  House of Commons
Funds sought for new rail station
20 Jan 10 |  Derbyshire

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