Rail privatisation 'threat to rural life': Report predicts line closures and rising fares

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The Independent Online
RAIL privatisation will inflict serious damage on rural areas, similar to the 'lasting wound' left by the Beeching line closures of the 1960s, according to a report published today.

Fares will rise, services and staff will be cut and many lines could be closed, it says. The result will be greater isolation of rural communities, pressure for more roads and extra social and economic costs.

The report, End of the Line? The Impact of Rail Privatisation on Rural Communities, is produced by Transport 2000, ACRE, the national voluntary organisation representing rural areas, and Platform, an alliance of 80 groups campaigning for better rail services. It argues that cuts in public subsidies and rail investment will affect rural areas worst.

Other aspects of rail privatisation which will impinge particularly on rural services are the likely erosion of network-wide fares and through ticketing, the line-by-line subsidy proposals and the extra bureaucracy and uncertainty of rail provision.

The greater 'transparency' of rural rail subsidies will result in moves to replace them with buses. Buses are cheaper and more flexible but cannot provide the speed or comfort of trains, the report says. Fewer than half the rail travellers of the pre-Beeching era used the buses that replaced lines.

Two million people living in the countryside do not have access to a car. According to Jeremy Fennell, of ACRE, rural commuters have no choice about their use of rail and would face 'isolation and desperation' if it was denied to them.

The report says traffic in rural areas will increase by a factor of three or four over the next 30 years and calls for a national rail strategy with commitments to funding. Rural railways should be treated as other parts of the rural infrastructure, such as roads, telephones and postal services, all of which are funded as part of an overall network and thus subsidised.