Ilkeston had three railway stations. Ilkeston Central – where Tesco now stands – was closed to passenger services in 1950; Ilkeston North in 1964, and Ilkeston Junction in 1967.
It really is a scandal that it has taken nearly 50 years to get a new station. In the mid-1990’s Derbyshire County Council aimed to get “trains up and running by 1995”. There was wishful thinking in the Ilkeston Advertiser on 8th January 1993: “The Derbyshire Structure Plan calls for the re-opening of the Erewash Valley stations between 1993 and 1997”.
The Greater Nottingham Area Rail Development Strategy also fully supported the re-openings at that time. Erewash Borough Council and Angela Knight the MP for Erewash at that time also supported the re-openings. The need for a station was obvious and had substantial economic, social, and environmental benefits.
So why didn’t it happen?
The answer is that between 1993 – 1996 the railways were privatised with a separation of operating companies, rolling stock companies, infrastructure and maintenance, with no one willing to take on new responsibilities and no one actually knowing what their responsibilities were.
Under British Rail the working ethos was cooperation and clear-cut organisation – people knew their responsibilities. Under the privatised network the ethos was adversarial within a highly complex contractual, legal, and financial framework. Everyone had to make a profit.
So it is no surprise that in the mid 1990s – with the huge upheaval in the organisation of the railways – that the Ilkeston Junction re-opening was pushed out into the long grass.
In any event who would pay for it? Who would run the trains and would they be profitable? How much would the infrastructure cost and who would put it in?
A new station at Ilkeston was a non-starter.
In 1993 I set up the Ilkeston Rail Action Group to campaign for the re-opening of Ilkeston Junction. Our first meeting was at the John Warren on 17th February 1993. We were optimistic and had the support of all the major interests. On 3rd December 1993 the Ilkeston Advertiser reported, quoting our newsletter:
It (the newsletter) quotes Nottingham County Council as saying that work on a programme of re-openings in the Erewash Valley is ‘seriously going ahead’. British Rail is expected to complete a site study in January followed by market research.
It is thought that reports will go to the county councils policy committee in February with a view to starting the funding process. Current estimates put the cost at around £7m the newsletter says – ‘ a real bargain when balanced against the social and environmental benefits.
But nothing happened. Everyone agreed it was necessary, there was public support, the benefits were clear, it was technically feasible, but in the upheaval of privatisation no one would touch it with a bargepole.
Nearly 25 years on it seems that Ilkeston Junction will re-open April 2017. A long time for a relatively simple re-opening. I close with a quote from Gerald Corbett, a former Chief Executive of Railtrack:
The railway as a system, under BR it was totally integrated and one person or group of people were able to balance the system. Performance, safety, efficiency, capacity, growth, it was all one system. I think that privatisation did fragment that system into over 100 different parts. That fragmentation did mean that the accountabilities were diffused and many of the different parts were set up with an economic architecture which by definition pointed them in different directions.
That says it all. That is the story of the last 25 years. That is why Ilkeston has, for so long, been one of the largest towns in the UK without a railway station.