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The case for rebuilding the rail line to Hunstanton

Hunstanton rail link; last train
Hunstanton rail link; last train

It seems an impossible dream – rebuild and reopen the closed Lynn to Hunstanton rail line, that was axed in the 1960s.

But it is one that is drawing increasing traction.

Hunstanton Rail Station
Hunstanton Rail Station

Here local transport consultant Howard Johnston, who now lives in Hunstanton, makes the case for a reversal of the “£150 million mistake”.

He said: “The economy of North West Norfolk is beginning to struggle because of its poor transport links.

“There seems to be little prospect of much-needed new industry, and the thriving high-technology city of Cambridge is just too far to travel to and come back from in a single day. A fast through rail link would solve all that.”

Mr Johnston’s detailed analysis is in the latest issue of Rail magazine.

Hunstanton railway station, Turnstone
Hunstanton railway station, Turnstone

He said: “£150 million investment is actually very little money for the benefit that a railway will bring over the next half a century … it’s £3 million a year, which is no more than a couple of second homes just along the coast at Thornham or Brancaster.

“Where will the money come from? Transport Minister Chris Grayling has recently indicated that the Government is receptive to well-devised rail reinstatement schemes. Very close to us, the reopening to passengers of the Wisbech-March line, considered a complete no-hoper a decade ago, is now on Mr Grayling’s priority lists.

“Although parish councils along the West Norfolk coast are already opposing its extraction, the presence of vast silica sand deposits in the Snettisham/Dersingham area might be the key to much of the money. A developer might relay track without resort to the taxpayer, and rail transport would avoid the need for hundreds of lorries to move the material out. Silica sand, which is mined wet so does not create dust, is vital for the glass-making, construction, ceramics, chemical industries, and agriculture.

“A short passenger extension north to Heacham and Hunstanton could then be completed at quite a lower cost, and it would be bound to attract local passenger custom from a large rural area stretching as far as Docking, Burnham Market, Holkham and Wells.

“At peak holiday periods, especially bank holidays, the current single carriageway A149 road is often jam-packed with slow-moving or stationary traffic. We can only expect that the congestion will get worse, and there is no alternative route.

“This is a time-bomb waiting to explode because it makes the Queen Elizabeth Hospital increasingly difficult to reach in emergencies, and this could be very serious for the area’s ageing population.

“We are also talking about through trains, to Cambridge and possibly London Liverpool Street. Any suggestions that we should have guided buses or light rail just wouldn’t work … you also can’t carry sand or freight on trams.”

“The King’s Lynn Hunstanton Railway Project, formed last May by Ely-based campaigner Georgina Turner in May 2017 with her worldwide change.org website, has a strong membership that includes senior former railwaymen, engineers, planners, local figures, and consultants.

“It is far too early to suggest what route the ‘new’ railway would take. If it left the centre of King’s Lynn on the tracks of the old docks line (which is still technically open), it would run closer to the coast than before, with a joint station possibly serving Snettisham and Dersingham, then Heacham, and a new parkway-style station on the eastern side of Hunstanton. An alternative route is to leave the Middleton Towers freight line at a new junction a little way north of Hardwick estate, with an additional halt at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.”

How it was closed

The idea of bringing trains back to Hunstanton is a far cry from the 1960s, when British Railways deliberately drove away business by cutting out through

services, stopping day excursions, sacking staff, and turning stations into unwelcoming unstaffed halts that were prone to decay and vandalism.

Notorious railway axeman Dr Richard Beeching saw a future for the line, but BR massaged the figures by not counting passengers from south of Lynn. This

cut the annual total from over 200,000 to just 40,000 – an 80 per cent fall - and this was an easy excuse to close the line and rip up the track.

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