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Lib Dems pledge to switch £3bn from road to rail

The Liberal Democrats have promised to reopen thousands of miles of railway track and stations across the country in what they said would be the biggest expansion of the network since the Victorian era.

The work would be paid for with nearly £3 billion switched from road to rail, said party transport spokesman Norman Baker.

Councils and transport authorities could bid for money from a new Rail Expansion Fund to improve, reopen or establish services.

Precise decisions on which services could be expanded would not be made until bids were received, but the Lib Dems have drawn up an A-list of schemes which could be suitable for early delivery.

These include the electrification of lines from Manchester to Liverpool, Leeds and Preston; from Birmingham to Bristol and Basingstoke; and between Leeds and York. New or reopened stations could be funded in Ilkeston, Kidlington, Wantage, Corsham, Tavistock, Middlewich, Ashington, Blyth, Washington and Skelmersdale.

New lines could link Southport with Preston, Bournemouth with Ringwood and the Midlands main line with the Birmingham-Derby route. And track could be reopened between Exeter and Okehampton; Tavistock and Plymouth; Penrith and Keswick; and Galashiels and Carlisle.

In some areas, such as the line linking Heywood and Bury with Rawtenstall, heritage lines could be returned to passenger use.

Unveiling the policy today, Mr Baker said: “The Liberal Democrats will transform the railways with the biggest expansion since the Victorian age.

“Labour has allowed the railways to wither on the vine and punished passengers with huge fare hikes while more polluting forms of transport have got cheaper. All the while, the Tories have been sharpening the axe they will take to the transport budget.

“High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st-century rail network Britain needs. Our plans will reopen thousands of miles of track across the country and make our railway great again.”

A Lib Dem administration would cut the Government’s major roads project for the years up to 2013/14 by 90% and divert almost £3.5 billion to rail, said Mr Baker.

Some £480 million of the cash - currently earmarked for projects like motorway widening and hard shoulders - would go towards the Lib Dems’ existing policy of cutting rail fares.

The remaining £2.95 billion would go into the Rail Expansion Fund.