But opponents warn of traffic problems and lack of support
By Carolyn Griffith
Lymington Times – 19 August 2022
Plans to bring back passenger trains to the Waterside line have been publicly backed by a range of local public figures including Lord Montagu and TV historian Dan Snow.
They were among a series of local politicians, businesspeople and landowners to take part in a promotional video supporting draft plans for the line to be revived, which are currently out for public consultation. Among them was Aldred Drummond, boss of Fawley Waterside Ltd which is behind plans for 1,500 homes at the old power station, and Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith.
The promotional video was put together by the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, a Hampshire group which campaigns for better train networks. Partnership chair Nick Farthing said it was “delighted” that Network Rail had begun a consultation into reopening the line, which he said was in
“relatively good condition”
for its age. He added:
“Increasing numbers of people are locating to the Waterside to live, work and play.
“Connectivity is vital to facilitating this growth, providing residents and businesses with more travel options as part of a wider integrated transport system.
“With significant development planned for the Waterside, together with being awarded Solent Freeport status, the Waterside must have more efficient, reliable, and affordable transport options on offer.”
The nine-mile branch line was closed in 1966 although freight trains continued until 2016, transporting crude oil to Fawley oil refinery. Some freight services still use the line to access the Solent Gateway port in Marchwood.
Supporters featured in the video included New Forest Business Partnership chair Matthew Lawson, New Forest Heritage Trust director Anthony Climpson, and Cllr Malcolm Wade, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition group on New Forest District Council. Others were Rob Forder, principal of the New Forest Academy in Holbury; Richard Parkinson, port director at the Solent Gateway port in Marchwood; and Darren Gilder, sales manager at Vibrant Forest Brewery in Holbury.
However, not everyone is so keen. Concerns over road congestion in Marchwood and Totton and the impact on buses and the Hythe ferry were highlighted at a recent roundtable meeting chaired by New Forest East MP Julian Lewis. He called the discussion following talks with transport minister Wendy Morton. It involved officials from Hampshire County Council, National Rail and the Department for Transport (DfT), among others.
According to an agreed report of the meeting published by Dr Lewis, a DfT representative confirmed that support for the railway could be withdrawn if it failed to generate revenue within a few years after reopening.
Dr Lewis has previously raised concerns that reopening the line could prejudice funding for improving the A326.
Questions were also raised over the cost-benefit ratio, with objector Colin Cooley, a former project manager at Fawley oil refinery, saying he “fundamentally disagreed” with the demand forecasts in the outline business case. It indicated a 26% increase in Totton to Southampton rail journeys as a result of the scheme. But he questioned why more people would use the train between those stations when there was already a good service in place.
Dr Lewis agreed and said the figures were a “key concern”.