THE return of passengers to the Waterside railway line remains on track after New Forest District Council gave its blessing to the scheme.
Councillors at a recent meeting voted unanimously in principle to support moves to reopen it, which have gathered pace over the past 18 months.
No public trains have run on the route for 50 years but South Western Railway recently ran a successful test, and Hampshire County Council has been given Department of Transport money for a feasibility study.
Having kicked off the campaign for the line to be reopened, Cllr David Harrison said: “I am very optimistic that before I retire I will see the return of a passenger service along the Waterside railway.”
Cllr Malcolm Wade said it was an example of the type of “forward-thinking” transport schemes the council needed to pursue, while Independent member Cllr Jacqui England hailed cross-party co-operation.
It is hoped passenger trains will help take commuters off the A326 which is often beset with congestion and referred to as the “longest cul-de-sac in Hampshire”.
Cllr Maureen Holding said she was delighted by the thumbs-up for the potential return of the railway passenger service, saying: “We must push for this as it will make a big difference.”
As reported in the A&T, transport secretary Grant Shapps had confirmed the government was setting aside £50m for projects, such as the Waterside line, that would reverse previous cuts to passenger services decades earlier.
It had the aspiration of reconnecting communities, Mr Shapps said, to increase the access of people in isolated areas to jobs and training – which he added would be “crucial as the country recovers from coronavirus”.
A backer of the scheme has been the not-for-profit Three Rivers Community Partnership, and chairman Nick Farthing previously explained the Waterside project would cost around £20m-£30m to implement and could completely reopen within five years.
He explained it could involve reopening the original station building in Marchwood and a new station would need to be built in Hythe.
Further along the line would be another new stop, Hythe and Fawley Parkway, with a park-and-ride facility. However, the trains would not run through Fawley refinery to reach the planned Fawley Waterside development of 1,500 homes.