The party said it would fund the revamp via swingeing cuts to spending on major roads, ploughing almost £3bn into a new Rail Expansion Fund from which councils and transport authorities could bid for cash to improve local rail services.
“High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st century rail network Britain needs,” said Lib Dem shadow transport secretary Norman Baker. “Our plans will reopen thousands of miles of track across the country and make our railway great again.”
But critics hailed the announcement as a way to shirk the reality of life for the majority of commuters.
Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said more than nine out of 10 passenger journeys take place on the roads, while just seven per cent are by train.
“To start cutting the roads budget to expand rail services is unlikely to be the best use of scarce taxpayers’ money either in financial terms or by way of serving the vast majority of the population,” he said.
The Lib Dems policy comes after the government last month unveiled proposals for a new high-speed rail network, improving links between London and Birmingham, the north of England and Scotland.