Waterside Totton and Hythe rail plan shelved

Hampshire County Council said the line would cost £900,000 a year to run

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Plans to reopen a freight railway line near Southampton to passenger trains have been shelved over cost concerns.

Hampshire County Council considered using the line, between Totton and Hythe, for commuter and tourist services.

A council report came down against progressing with the scheme, which would cost £900,000 a year to run.

Campaigners said the environmental and social benefits of the proposals were not being taken into account.

Analysis

In 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies suggested the case for re-opening the Fawley line was very strong, representing the highest value for money of all the routes it examined.

In its feasibility study, Hampshire County Council concluded demand was not strong enough to make a strong business case.

It said the service would take passengers from current commercial bus services and the council-subsidised Hythe Ferry.

However, the authority says it could review its position - apparently due to the development of the former military port at Marchwood. The site is currently up for sale with 25 bidders interested.

So rejection will send a bleak message to other supporters of projects to reopen old lines for new services.

The six-mile (10km) Waterside line is currently only used by freight trains serving the Fawley oil refinery complex. It was last used by passenger trains in 1966.

The capital cost of reinstating the line to accommodate passenger trains was estimated at about £17m for relaying track, installing new signalling at Totton and building new platforms at Hythe and Totton.

The scheme would involve a single two-car Class 158 diesel train making one round trip an hour between Hythe and all stations to Eastleigh, including Southampton Central.

'Terrific asset'

The council report was against committing further funding for the scheme due to the "poor value for money business case", although it said the authority should review the position should local circumstances change.

Local campaigners maintained that a passenger service would cut congestion on routes in Waterside and allow tourists to access the nearby New Forest National Park.

Marchwood station in 1960s The line through Marchwood was last used by passenger trains in 1966

Liberal Democrat councillor and member of the New Forest National Park Authority, David Harrison said: "A railway would be a terrific asset to the Waterside community. I think it is inevitable we will see it - I just want it in a shorter timeframe."

He said the report was based on a "false premise" in concentrating on the financial costs and not surveying the opinions of local people.

He also called on the council to investigate alternative sources of funding including the European Union and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

The decision to shelve the plans was ratified by Sean Woodward, executive member for economy, transport and environment.

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