CAMPAIGNERS calling for a Hampshire railway line to be reopened are celebrating a £500m scheme unveiled by the government.

Ministers say they want to "rebalance" the economy by reversing some of the Beeching cuts imposed in the 1960s, when more than 2,300 stations and about 5,000 miles of track were axed.

The government's announcement has fuelled hopes that passenger trains will return to the Totton to Fawley branch line.

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County councillor David Harrison, who represents Totton and Marchwood, said: "We just need a capital investment of £20m-£30m to secure the rolling stock, improve the platforms, transform the crossings and, if necessary, carry out sound proofing at one or two points along the track.

“Restoring a passenger service would be hugely popular and make a contribution towards easing road congestion and the serious problem of air quality.”

The £500m set aside by the government is only meant to fund feasibility studies - but the move is being seen as the first step towards reopening lines across the country.

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Passenger services on the Waterside ceased in the 1960s but the track continued to serve Marchwood Military Port and Fawley refinery.

Calls to reopen the line are due to be debated at next month's meeting Hythe and Dibden Parish Council.

It follows a presentation made by Nick Farthing of the Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, a not-for-profit group which aims to improve bus and train services.

The old Hythe station is now a heritage centre and the remains of Fawley station are inside the refinery.

Mr Farthing highlighted the case for reopening the former station at Marchwood and building two new ones - Hythe Town and Hythe and Fawley Parkway.

The latter would be built on the site of the old Hardley Halt, just north of the refinery.

Cllr Harrison said: "It seems almost criminal not to make best use of the existing line, which is maintained at public expense but is hardly used.

"The project really chimes with the desperate need to reduce congestion on the A326 and the very serious air quality issues west of Southampton."

Referring to critics of the campaign Cllr Harrison added: "I take their concerns seriously but think they can all be properly addressed.

"There is a world of difference between the heavy trains that currently use the line and the sort of service that is planned - swifter, lighter and a great deal quieter."