REGIONAL and local lines are all too often dismissed by the management of large national railways as hopelessly uneconomic. And indeed, when they are left to rot, neglected but still overstaffed, they often are. But turn them over to local management, add simple, modern signalling and up-to-date rolling stock, and the position can be transformed.

One spectacularly successful rebirth is on the island of Usedom on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. The island enjoyed a direct rail link with the Polish mainland at Swinoujscie until 1945, and its isolated 49 km line eked out a precarious existence until the early 1990s. This year has seen a bridge built across the Peene at Wolgast so that trains can run directly from the German mainland at Züssow, where there is a junction with the Berlin - Stralsund main line, to the seaside resort of Ahlbeck. En route they serve numerous beach resorts on the northern shore such as Zinnowitz, from where a branch runs to Peenemünde, once famous for the military activities at its rocket base.

Proposals for rebuilding the run-down railway surfaced in 1992, when the line was threatened with closure. A student at Dresden University put forward a revival plan, and the same student, one J