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Rail line plan dropped from council’s strategy

The Greenway car park in Stratford. Photo: Mark Williamson
The Greenway car park in Stratford. Photo: Mark Williamson

THE reinstatement of the Stratford to Honeybourne railway line has been left out of Worcestershire’s Draft Rail Investment Strategy.

The omission comes as something of a surprise as Worcestershire County Council, which commissioned the strategy, has been a vocal supporter of the idea.

The council was also due to lead and co-fund a separate study that will consider the economic benefits of reinstating the six-mile stretch of track, which closed 40 years ago.

It has told the Herald that it will honour the agreement to lead that study and said it would be completed by the end of August.

But it said it considered that the drive to reinstating the line would need to be the responsibility of Warwickshire County Council because much of the line was within its boundary and the wider benefits to Worcestershire were ‘limited’.

In a statement, the Shakespeare Line Promotion Group (SLPG), which has been lobbying in favour of the scheme, said: “We are very conscious of the previous and consistent support by WoCC towards the potential reopening of the railway that WoCC expressed as recently as last year, in their submission to Stratford District Council’s core strategy.

“Consequently, the apparent change in the rail investment strategy appears inexplicable.

"As a result SLPG have requested sight of the evidence base for the apparent changed position in the strategy.”

Worcestershire’s rail strategy was drawn up by Birmingham-based company SLC Rail, which acts as the county’s rail advisors.

It tested several new projects and chose four to pursue. But those tests showed that an hourly train service from Worcester to Evesham, Honeybourne, Stratford, Solihull and Birmingham would generate an additional £1million a year to the local economy and help create 26 jobs in the county – the lowest.

Enhanced journey times and frequencies between Worcester, Oxford and London would yield £19million per year and over 400 new jobs, and connecting Bromsgrove or Kidderminster with Cheltenham, Gloucester and Bristol with two trains an hour could yield more than £5.5million a year and 150 new jobs.

Both were among the four priority schemes, while the upgrading of the existing North Cotswold Line, which currently terminates at Honeybourne, is among the longer-term aspirations.

The council said reinstating the Stratford-Honeybourne line would require major infrastructure works that would have to be dealt with by Warwickshire’s local authorities.

Cllr Dr Ken Pollock, Worcestershire council’s cabinet member for economy and infrastructure, said: “The location of the Stratford-Honeybourne rail line, primarily within Warwickshire, limits the economic benefits its re-opening can offer to Worcestershire, and Worcestershire’s Draft Rail Investment Strategy seeks to provide an evidenced set of strategic priorities for the county’s rail network.

“The Worcestershire-specific benefits of re-opening Stratford-Honeybourne are significantly lower than those for faster, more frequent services to Oxford and London, calls in long-distance cross country services at Worcestershire Parkway, or frequent services between the county and Cheltenham, Gloucester and Bristol.

“In working with neighbouring authorities the council is completing a more detailed review of the economic benefits that could be offered by a range of train services that could use a re-opened route, this review should be available later in the summer.”

He added: “The county recognises that Honeybourne Station could offer greater capacity to serve the neighbouring areas of both Worcestershire and Warwickshire, with the potential for facility and car parking enhancements that may be considered both by local authorities, the rail industry and developers.

"We are willing to work with Warwickshire if they decide to pursue this scheme.”

The £10,000 cost of the economic impact study will be shared between Stratford and West Oxfordshire district councils, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire county councils, and operating companies Great Western Railway and London Midland.

User groups Stratford Rail Transport and Cotswold Line Promotion Group will also contribute. SLPG is also pushing for what is known as a GRIP4 study which will fully assess the feasibility of reinstating the line, but that could itself cost up to £1million.

WaCC insists responsibility for new rail lines should be Network Rail’s, while SDC has claimed a ‘neutral’ position on the idea.

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