OPINION:Bramley Line on track to open as a heritage railway and boost the local economy

FAR from being “sidetracked”, as your headline suggests, the strategy for reopening the Bramley Line is in line with government thinking and definitely on the right track.

The Bramley Line Trust is a vibrant organisation making positive progress towards re-opening the line as a heritage railway. The attached photo taken a few days ago demonstrates this.

While like many I would love to see Wisbech back on the rail network, my main concern is that the disused line is protected now. The heritage route, as supported by the Town Council, will do that ,while in the meantime creating a significant benefit to the local community.

This is consistent with the DfT report in March ‘Reforming our Railways,’ which states “Local planning authorities should identify and protect, where there is robust evidence, sites and routes which would be critical in developing infrastructure to widen transport choice. This approach represents an opportunity for local communities to shape much of their local transport network over the coming years”.

On Heritage Rail the report states: “Such railways can make a significant contribution to local economies by:

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? attracting visitors to local areas;

? purchasing local goods and services; and,

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? in some cases, providing jobs and opportunities to develop skills.

As such, it is a good example of ‘Big Society’ in operation”. There is plenty of evidence as to the benefits heritage railways bring to the local economy. At Ramsbottom in Lancashire, 30% of shops in the main street were unoccupied. Six years after some “railway enthusiasts” re-opened the local railway line as a heritage railway, all the shops in the main street were occupied.

In Yorkshire, a study by Arup of the impacts of the Wensleydale Railway on the local area found that it contributed �1.8m to the local economy, created jobs and benefited 38% of local businesses. The report also showed that the opportunities for volunteering and leisure activities had a positive effect on upskilling, peoples’ well being and social cohesion.

A Heritage Lottery Fund report in 2005 states: “Industrial heritage is part of the unique character of the UK and provides wonderful opportunities for access, learning and enjoyment for a whole range of people”. I understand the Trust is proposing that the Waldersea site should contain a heritage railway museum which they intend to open to the public next year to mark the 60th anniversary of the Rev. Awdry coming to the area.

Re-opening as a heritage railway is a fraction of the cost of a commercial reopening, it will protect the line and retain the possibility of Wisbech being connected to the network again. The Bramley Line volunteers and their supporters have the vision to put something right at least.

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