The Department for Transport (DfT) has announced a £794 million investment to reopen two rail routes closed more than 50 years ago.
The majority of the funding (£760m) will go towards reinstating direct rail services between Bicester and Bletchley as part of the East West Rail project, which aims to provide better connectivity along the Oxford-Cambridge arc and shorten journey times between routes outside of London.
The remaining £34m will be used to reopen the Northumberland line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also called on local authorities, MPs and community groups to submit bids for a share of the third and final round of the DfT’s Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund, designed to encourage proposals to reopen railway lines, services and stations.
Interested parties have until March 5, 2021 to submit their proposals, with successful bids due to be announced later this summer.
Shapps said: “Restoring railways helps put communities back on the map, and this investment forms part of our nationwide effort to build back vital connections and unlock access to jobs, education and housing.
"Returning these routes to their former glory, and progressing work to reopen even more lines and stations shows our commitment to levelling up journeys across the country as we build back better from the pandemic.”
Simon Blanchflower, chief executive officer at East West Railway Company, said: "This funding will enable us to get on with the construction work that will connect communities who live on the East West Rail link.
“We are committed to improving connectivity across the Oxford-Cambridge arc, and fully recognise our responsibility to ensure that it is delivered in a way that minimises disruption, supports the regional economy, maximises benefits and supports jobs across the region."
The work between Bicester and Bletchley includes the construction of a new station at Winslow, as well as enhancements to existing stations along the route,and is expected to create 1,500 jobs.
The investment on the Northumberland line will fund preparatory works, including land acquisition, detailed design work and early site works.
Northumberland County Council Leader Glen Sanderson said: “This is absolutely fantastic news, and means we can now finalise our plans to deliver this transformational project for both Northumberland and the wider region.
"The Northumberland line will bring a huge boost to the area in terms of economic growth, housing, employment and education opportunities, as well as providing a fast and efficient new transport link between the south-east of the county and Tyneside.”
Plans for the project include new stations at Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval and Northumberland Park in North Tyneside, as well as upgrades to the track and changes to level crossings where bridges or underpasses may need to be built.
Welcoming the announcements, Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The Government clearly recognises the vital importance of rail in enabling a green, fair recovery.
"Now is absolutely the time to turn around the disastrous Beeching cuts: the future of transport must be sustainable, it must be inclusive and accessible to all, and that means linking up many more communities to all of the benefits that rail brings.
"We're calling for much more investment in projects like this, while cautioning the Government and Network Rail to keep a close watch on costs to enable rail investment to go as far as possible."