IT WAS the ideal way to see if the long-running campaign to reopen a Hampshire railway line is on the right track.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris boarded a special excursion dubbed the "Fawley Explorer" to examine the case for restoring passenger services in the Waterside area.

It follows Hampshire County Council's successful submission to the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railways fund.

The cash will enable the authority to carry out a feasibility study into reopening the old Totton to Hythe line, which was built 95 years ago.

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Mr Heaton-Harris said the government was determined to reconnect communities and improve infrastructure across the country.

He added: "The progress towards developing a business case for this restoration is testament to the energy and enthusiasm of local campaigners, and I share the passion they and other communities have to reopen and restore local lines.”

Following the minister's visit a South Western Railway (SWR) spokesperson said the restoration of passenger services "may be a step-closer to reality".

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, added: "Railways have a huge role to play in building environmentally-sustainable economic and social development.

"It’s great to see a passenger train down this line again. It's been a really useful event for our partners to understand what we might have to do to bring trains back permanently.”

Other passengers included Mark Hopwood, managing director of SWR.

He said: "Branch lines are vital to connect local communities. Exploring the possibility of reopening disused lines for passengers is vital for us to reconnect our communities again.”

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If services are restored trains will only run as far south as Hythe as the old Fawley station is inside the oil refinery.

Cllr Rob Humby is the county council's executive member for economy, transport and environment.

He said: "Hampshire County Council was very pleased that our bid to the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railways Fund was successful.

"We now look forward to working with the Department for Transport, Network Rail and stakeholders to undertake a business case for re-introducing passenger rail services on the line.”