The Beeching railway closures of the 1960's and 1970's represent one of the most appalling, far-reaching and short-sighted social and economic crimes committed by any UK Government in living memory, against its own electorate.
At a stroke, rural communities and businesses were returned to the kind of isolation they had not seen in 3 generations… and in some cases, since the 1850's.
The economic hardship, unemployment and social decline that this caused has been well documented, but it is perhaps not well understood by those who still live in affluent urban areas and benefit from excellent public transport.
With the restoration of rapid, reliable and effective rail links between town and country, the problem of the so-called "rural poor" and sink estate dumping grounds on the edge of once proud rural towns and villages, would probably not exist, or would at least be very much lessened, as these people would be able to commute easily to solid, well-paid employment in the towns.
Local businesses would once again flourish with their products and services so much more easily accessible to the outside world and hence local employment prospects would also benefit.
Local people would be able to continue to own their own homes locally. The national weeping sore that is the "second homes" issue would be at least soothed, and rural communities would begin to come alive and thrive once more, regardless of what season it was.
This is not "golden-age" sentimentalism. Many of Beeching's recommendations very rapidly proved to be economic and social folly, even at the time… and many were based on an extremely pessimistic and blinkered outlook on the potential development of the communities concerned. Some lines were removed at the same time as new housing estates were going up in the towns they served. Sheer madness!
Equally, many lines were never viable and were never going to be viable and should not be re-opened. Whilst our industrial history and heritage are also important, my idea does not spring from a nostalgic yearning for the past. I believe there is a rational, practical and economically sound case for extensive re-evaluation of the dormant network and its potential.
But you have to stop people building all over it first!
In implementing my ideas… I believe the Coalition can give a clear and unambiguous signal of its support for the social, cultural and economic re-enfranchisement of Britain's rural and extra-urban communities, and help bridge the social, cultural and economic gap that exists between town and country.
BUILD IT, AND THEY WILL RIDE!