CAMPAIGNERS calling for a Hampshire railway line to be reopened have received a major boost.

Part of a £500m fund created by the government will be used to develop proposals to restore passenger services on the Totton to Hythe route.

The line closed to the public 54 years ago but continued to serve Marchwood Military Port and Fawley refinery.

Campaigners say passenger services should be revived to ease the ever-increasing burden on the A326 and other roads in the area.

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They have redoubled their efforts since Fawley Waterside unveiled plans to replace the old power station with 1,500 new homes and a raft of community facilities.

Calls for the railway line to be reopened have been backed by Hythe and Marchwood parish councils.

Now the project has qualified for funding after the Department for Transport decided that the possibility of restoring passenger services was worthy of further consideration.

County councillor David Harrison, who represents Totton and Marchwood, welcomed the announcement..

He said: “I am absolutely delighted the Department have selected the project as one of the top ten priorities for the £500m funding available for getting new train services up and running.

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“I know not everybody is supportive but I honestly believe that the reservations I have listened to, and will continue to listen to, can be properly dealt with.

“There is almost no project that doesn’t have potential downsides. Nobody wants to see long closures of the Totton train gates, for example. If I didn’t think these things could be resolved, or that the benefits didn’t outweigh the disadvantages, I wouldn’t support them.”

Cllr Harrison praised the work of Nick Farthing, chairman of the not-for-profit Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, which is backing the plans.

Ideas under discussion include reopening Marchwood station and building a new station at Hythe to replace the original, which is now a heritage centre.

A government spokesman confirmed that ten of the 60 bids submitted would receive some of the £500m set aside for restoring railways.

He said the money would be used to develop proposals to reopen lines and stations, including those that were closed under the Beeching cuts imposed in the 1960s.

A Hampshire County Council spokeswoman said the size of the grant allocated to the Waterside project had yet to be confirmed.