Waterside railway – 'time is now right' to look at reopening, says county council
THE potential return of passengers to the Waterside railway remains on track after the Hampshire County Council backed more exploratory work.
The greenlight by the ruling cabinet means the authority, Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail can build on a recent £50,000 feasibility study into the project.
The scheme would open up the line between Totton and a point south of Hythe, in the vicinity of the original Hardley Halt station.
The route has been shut to public trains for 50 years but the reopening is being pushed since HCC believes reintroducing passenger trains could help alleviate congestion pressures on the A326 – sometimes referred to as the “longest cul-de-sac in Hampshire”.
The need to address transport issues partly stems from the 1,500 new homes proposed at the Fawley Waterside development at the old power station, as well as the government recently granting Freeport status to the area to boost investment and jobs.
The work will involve HCC further investigating the business case ahead of plans to carry out a public consultation this year in the spring or summer.
The options involve potential new stations at Hythe Town and a Hythe and Fawley Parkway, and upgrading the former station at Marchwood.
It could also extend current services that terminate at Southampton Central or create a new shuttle service between Southampton Central and the Waterside.
Seven years ago the plan appeared dead when a study deemed that reopening the railway was unviable.
But HCC deputy leader, Cllr Rob Humby, said things were now very different: “We believe that changing local population, economic and funding circumstances mean the time is now right for a further detailed look at its potential.
“This will include taking account of the major development proposals set out in the New Forest District Local Plan, anticipated significant employment growth in the area as identified in the ‘Waterside Vision’ and the most recent announcement about the Solent Freeport.
“This work will also feed into our commitment to support measures that will combat climate change, as well as schemes enabling Hampshire residents to live safe, healthy and independent lives – for example, by improving air quality or encouraging more active travel through improved walking and cycling provision.
“We also recognise the changes that are likely to arise in how people live, work and travel, as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
HCC is exploring applying for government funding worth between £115m and £140m to help pay for wider Waterside transport schemes, including an expansion the A326 west of Totton into a dual carriageway and replacing the train gates in Junction Road, Totton, with a road bridge.
As reported in the A&T, the Waterside railway project gained momentum after transport secretary Grant Shapps revealed it was one of a number of priority schemes cited for £50m of funding for schemes that would reverse previous cuts to passenger services.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said the latest HCC cabinet backing for the plan was “hugely encouraging” and would boost businesses and connect communities.
Also delighted was one of the long-term champions of the project, Cllr David Harrison. He said: “We have seen a major shift in the position of Hampshire County Council from one of neutrality to active support for the waterside railway passenger project.
“I am now pretty confident that we will see government funding secured and make this a reality.”
He added: “It has huge social, economic and environmental benefits. Of course, there are a few challenges outstanding, including the impact on train gate closures, but given the increase in freight traffic that is going to happen anyway, this may be the spark that initiates solving the issues once and for all.”