Dr Beeching (*) was not alone in his belief that railways should be run as profitable businesses.  This wide-spread belief has translated to a de facto policy that remains welded into decision-making processes  at a county council level today as attempts are being made across the UK to undo the Beeching legacy.

The world is now reluctantly coming to terms with the very real impact of climate change  and this realisation is driving us towards sustainability.

Roughly a quarter of the worlds energy consumption comes from transporting people and goods. During the height of the COVID crisis we witnessed a temporary reduction in all types if travel. But as the world recovers from the pandemic we must expect the global appetite for mobility to be on the increase again. A joined-up energy management and public transport transformation to sustainable technologies must be front and centre of the recovery.

It may come as a shock that proposals to re-purpose (in-tact) railway-beds to rebuild sustainable transport infrastructure are not being taken seriously. It appears that luddite decision makers in public office are unable to break free of old-school business-case methodologies. Proposals to reverse the damaging Beeching cuts, that were rejected a decade (or more) ago remain locked away and rejected.

Here are some key factors that will not have been properly factored into old business cases for giving these national assets a new lease of life:

  • New multi-model options: i.e. combining light rail (tram), with EV and e-Bike and walking, integrated with heavy rail (at existing operational stations).
  • Behaviour changes: People are now happy to get out of the car
  • Twenty-first century business models: Franchising, joint ventures (community / local business)
  • Current centralised funding options.
  • Renewable energy:  Wind and solar power generation combined with energy storage and management.
  • EV light-rail and new-tech track can form the backbone of reconstructed transport links to encourage business investment.
  • Government policy and law (recent and forthcoming).
  • Massive investment in housing: Imperative to build reconstructed links before thousands of homes are built across the county.

I wonder if anyone would consider factoring a risk to ‘life on Earth’ into these business cases?

The UK Government has 6 strategic priorities for decarbonising transport:

  • Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport
  • Decarbonising how we get our goods
  • UK as a hub for green transport and technology innovations
  • Decarbonisation of road vehicles
  • Place based solutions
  • Reducing carbon in a global community

A proposal has been put forward to Surrey County Council re-open the Cranleigh to Guildford disused trackbed that will bring it back to life in a way that will support all of these priorities:

The latest proposed scheme is to restore the rail-bed into ta 21st Century multi-model public transport asset built in a sustainable way.

This new proposal would put Surrey County Council on a highly visible road-map to deliver against it’s  own published Climate Change Strategy. It would also resolve a couple of major strategic challenges for local  Borough Councils of Guildford and Waverley:

  • Waverley has committed to build more than 8000 new homes over the next 17 years. Permission has already been given for the development of 1800 homes at the Dunsfold Park site.
  • Roads are already congested towards Guildford. Alternative routes are already needed.

An original track-bed between Guildford and Cranleigh remains in place and runs past the Dunsfold Park site. It could easily be connected.  Furthermore, there is currently an appetite to get out of the car and use other modes of transport.

A lot of parameters have changed since the County Council and local authorities looked at this opportunity in the 90’s.  The new proposal recommends a multi-modal approach, combining traditional rail with much lower cost very light rail using a new generation of materials and technology, aligned to a sustainable future.  New proposals will preserve a cycle way, footpath, and may accommodate bridlepaths, along side a new EV-Tram service that will connect with the existing rail network outside Guildford.

LR-55 track can be laid into the multi-modal surface (laid along the old trackbed) from Cranleigh to Shalford.  The LR-55 track can be laid into the Plaza at Cranleigh which is location of the original rail station. E-busses will be fully integrated into the service schedules and could even supplement the trams along part of the line at peak times.

At Shalford, commuters will transfer from the tram to a new Lightweight Class 139 service (right) with services linked to Guildford’s main railway station.

There will be some impact to the roads and traffic signalling on the approach-roads to Shalford Station, a termination point for the Tram. A former steel railway bridge that once carried the original railway line over the Wey and Arun Canal near Bramley will also need to be reconstructed.

Early adopters of EV trams around Europe are creating some exciting opportunities and choices for this proposal.  The example on the right been designed for deployment into Coventry while the Tram in the headline image (top of this article) is already being trialled in Italy.

It is envisaged that mutliple stopping points along the route of the tram will connect with other local sustainable transport options.  New solar and small wind-turbine electricity generation at several sites along the route (including energy storage modules). Electric change points  (V2G) and scalable energy storage modules for Trams will be located at locations along the route. Park and Ride will be encouraged for  local residents and commuters  who choose to start their journeys in their own vehicles with added incentives for EV customers who can make use of  EV charging points.

Electric cycles  and conventional cycles (docked) will be provided at all connected stations and a number of Tram Stopping points.

This proposal to re-purpose the (in-tact) Guildford to Cranleigh rail-bed has been presented to Surrey County Council and politely turned down.

There is little appetite to revisit proposals where the business-cases have looked too weak in the past. No consideration has been given to the validity or the relevance of these out-of-date business-cases, regardless of the Council’s  2050 aspirations.

If you’d like to read a bit more about this opportunity,  there is  a slide pack available which includes summary of a recent study in Leeds,  example / case study  of a similar project in Nottingham and outline work-break-down and plan. Please contact me and leave your details, I’d be happy to share it with you.

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(*)Footnote (Dr Beeching reference)

“First, the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. In particular, the railway system must be modelled to meet current needs, and the modernisation plan must be adapted to this new shape”

This is the opening sentence of the infamous document titles ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’.  Regarded by most as the catalyst for the destruction of 4500 miles of railway track in the UK during the 60’s,  along with closure of 2,128 railway stations  and loss of more than 67,000 jobs.  Dr Richard Beeching, the author, had been commissioned by the British Government to produce this report, with a clear brief to come up with a plan to turn the failing railway industry around.

This was the outcome, 50 years later: