Why Railway Project Security Is So Vital To Progress

In an age when using the environmentally-friendlier alternative of public transport and building up regional infrastructure to boost the economy are widely regarded as essential, it may seem odd that some people are so opposed to attempts at making such improvements. But this is a reality that can lead to difficulties on the ground.

The experience of the HS2 project showed what can happen. Many of those who opposed the project, either on economic or conservation grounds, sought to try all and any means of stopping it. While some went to the courts, others tried direct action.

Among these actions were acts of trespass, as well as the digging of impromptu (and dangerous) tunnels. This led to many arrests, but also created significant delays.

This also led to HS2 taking action. Some of that involved court action to obtain a route-wide injunction against unlawful protests, but it also involved upping on-site security.

Some might imagine that smaller, more local rail projects would attract rather less trouble than HS2, which due to its higher cost, national reach and high profile was always more likely to be subject to debate and raise strong feelings on both sides of the debate about its merits.

However, it cannot be taken for granted that other projects will not attract their own opposition and protests, not least when a route is being dug from scratch.

Such a situation could arise in the case of the new Oxford to Cambridge East-West Rail line. The old ‘Varsity’ line was a victim of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s and in some places, the old track bed still exists, but the restoration of the link will involve some re-routing, not least because of the benefits the line will bring to places between the two cities.

Campaigners have now discovered via a Freedom of Information request that up to 6,000 acres of land could be required for one stretch, between Hauxton, south of Cambridge, and Clapham, just north of Bedford.

The fact that so much land is needed is why the Countryside Restoration Trust, which owns a farm near the planned route, has branded the £5 billion project “a crime against the countryside”.

A registered charity like this will focus its campaigning efforts on lobbying politicians as the general election approaches, as well as direct contact with East-West Rail via means such as an open letter it has written urging that the project be re-routed.

However, as groups such as Extinction Rebellion have shown with HS2, some opponents will seek to take direct action involving trespass, blockades and sabotage. What has happened there may occur again with East-West Rail, making more extensive security provisions necessary.

There are many other rail projects taking place across the country that are, thankfully, largely free from controversy. Examples include the Newcastle to Ashington line and the Camp Hill line in Birmingham.

However, these are usually schemes in which old lines were never taken up and have been used for through trains or freight, but are now having new stations built to serve communities deprived of them since the Beeching axe fell. In these cases, thankfully, there are no trees, farms, or green fields at stake.

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