RAIL lines closed during the notorious Beeching cuts of the 1960s could be reopened, the Transport Secretary has announced.

Chris Grayling said he wants to identify routes across the UK which could boost the economy, encourage house building and ease overcrowding.

It has also been reported the government could look at breaking up some train operators, including Great Western.

The suggestions are part of the Government's rail strategy which will be published today and will set out future plans for the network.

The news may be welcomed by champions of the closed Cowley Branch Line just outside Oxford and residents who have campaigned for years to get Grove Station near Wantage reopened.

Re-opening the Cowley line is already the subject of a £300,000 study announced in last week's budget, and a recent government-commissioned report recommended looking into re-opening Grove.

Thousands of stations like Grove and hundreds of branch lines like Cowley were closed between 1964 and 1970 in the wake of a report by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has already pledged to 'accelerate' the reopening of the rail link between Oxford and Cambridge.

A document published by the Treasury as part of last week's Budget confirmed funding for Network Rail to deliver phase two of the western section of East West Rail, from Bicester to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Princes Risborough, with passenger services running in 2023.

An independent East West Rail Company will be set up to deliver the central section between Bedford and Cambridge to open in the mid-2020s.

Mr Grayling said: "Many commuter services are full and getting busier and passengers know how much pressure the network is under.

"We are already investing in the biggest modernisation of railways for over a century to help people travel more quickly and in greater comfort.

"But we need a new way of working to help our railway deal with the challenges it faces.

"We need to expand our network to unlock jobs and housing growth across the country.

"We're already accelerating plans to reopen the railway line from Oxford to Cambridge.

"Now I want to see how we can expand other parts of the network to help make Britain fit for the future."

The announcement comes amid reports that the DfT will overhaul rail franchises and reform Network Rail.

In December last year Mr Grayling revealed that he wants the publicly owned company to share its responsibility for running the tracks with private train operators.

Network Rail has had full responsibility for running and developing the network since it was formed in 2002 after a series of fatal accidents, such as at Hatfield and Potters Bar, hit its predecessor, Railtrack.

But Mr Grayling wants the relationship between the management of tracks and trains to be more coordinated.