Reviving the Lambourn Valley Railway: A Sustainable Solution or Unrealistic Dream?

As most people are aware, for over 60 years – between 1898 and 1960 – there was a railway running from Newbury to Lambourn connecting smaller villages along the way such as Eastbury, East Garston and Shefford. The line was mostly used to transport coal, horses, human passengers and was an attempt to revitalise the area’s declining agricultural sector and economy.

During WWII railway lines all across the country, including Lambourn Valley Railway, were frequently used for military transport and by night, carried troops and equipment such as tanks.

The line had, however, never been consistently profitable.  After years of declining revenues, the final decision was made and GWR axed the line in 1960, saving it over £13,000 a year. This was the start of a major decline in the UK’s railways. Many other lines went the same way, especially during the Beeching cuts when a total of 5,000 miles of rail and over 2,300 stations were closed across the UK.

Although some of the stations closed during the Beeching cuts have since re-opened, and more are planned to be, the idea that the same could happen to the LVR is simply inconceivable: but it does make you wonder what life would be like if it were to be re-opened today.

Due to high fuel prices and threats of carbon emissions, there is an increasing demand for public transport that is yet to be answered. Having an efficient and reliable train line to replace the restrictive bus service could be revolutionary for many residents of all ages.

For example, during my work experience at Penny Post, I took the bus into Newbury and talked to another passenger. She told me she commutes a two-hour round-trip every day, riding the bus from Lambourn to Newbury and then catching a train to Kintbury. She would certainly benefit from the railway still being there.

There’s also the issue of all the jobs, and revenue, it could possibly create. Some railway lines have re-opened as heritage railways, usually using old steam trains. This can be great to give a boost to local economy and bring tourism to the area. After all who doesn’t love a good steam train?

Despite there being many upsides to re-introducing the LVR back to the area, there inevitably would be just as many downsides. For a start I’m sure that many homeowners would oppose the idea: after all it would be their own back garden that the train runs through. 

We have already seen how HS2 has affected habitats and people’s houses. Of course the LVR was nowhere near the size of HS2, but it would still pose similar problems. The former track has been for over fifty years a wildlife habitat and walkers’ route. 

Sometimes it can be easy to say that something ‘brings tourism to the area’ and ‘boosts the local economy’ but that’s assuming the line would even be successful in the first place. Also,  how would locals react when tourists turn up and potentially disrupt their area of outstanding natural beauty?

The thought of living in Lambourn or East Garston and being able to get on a train to Newbury is a very attractive idea to most but is it really the most sustainable? Technology is advancing faster than ever before. Recently the country’s first self-driving bus has been implemented in Scotland, while the USA has recently introduced self-driving taxi services

Whilst I wouldn’t expect this kind of technology to reach our area any time soon, hopefully bus service is only going to improve and become more efficient.

It is also worth mentioning that the only station in the area with a fighting chance at reopening is that at Wantage and Grove where GWR is constantly being pressured by campaigns and petitions from locals, including there MP, due to the increased need for it in an ever-growing town. It has happened elsewhere, so perhaps it might there. The track exists so it’s just a question of re-opening the station.

For the Lambourn Valley Railway, however, a re-opening seems unlikely – but not impossible. Until that day comes, we just have to carry on living our lives tied to the schedule of the No.4 bus to Newbury…

Photo credit: Lambourn Valley Railway

Kaden Womersley
Year 10 work experience student, King Alfred’s

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