Some railway lines closed in the 1960s could be reopened if they boost the economy, the government has said.
Some 4,000 miles of rail routes were closed and became known as the Beeching cuts – after Dr Richard Beeching who was then chairman of British Rail.
It is part of the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s rail strategy which will be unveiled on Wednesday.
Labour, which wants to renationalise the railways said the ideas were “flimsy re-announcements”.
Mr Grayling said new rail lines could unlock jobs, encourage house building and ease overcrowding.
“These could include rail services lost under the Beeching and British Rail cuts of the 1960s and 1970s where – if restored – these could kick-start crucial housing developments or help create new economic opportunities,” the Department for Transport said in a statement.
“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,” Mr Grayling added.
However, Labour has called the ideas “flimsy re-announcements” and “un-funded proposals”.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said the plans were “unambitious” and “more jam tomorrow from a government which has run out of ideas”.
“The Tories’ record is of delayed, downgraded and cancelled investment, huge disparities in regional transport spending and soaring fares that are pricing passengers off the railway.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said the union would be “pleased to see the lines cut by Beeching restored”.
However, he said Mr Grayling’s new plans would not boost jobs and housing, asking: “Where is the bold strategic vision for rail – and integrated transport links – in this country?”
Councils and business have also been asked to submit proposals for new lines.
However, the government has no plans to make new money available to fund any such suggestions, the BBC’s Transport Correspondent Richard Westcott said.
He added that the government was also likely to consult on splitting up the Great Western franchise between London, the South West and Wales.
That could result in one company running intercity lines and another running local services across Devon and Cornwall.
The new strategy will also outline improvements to the way private companies running the trains, work with the publicly-owned Network Rail which runs the tracks.
Who was Dr Beeching?
Richard Beeching’s brief as chairman of the British Transport Commission was simple: “Make the railways pay”.
British Rail was losing £140m a year when Dr Beeching took over the commission. His solution, announced on 27 March 1963, was equally straightforward – massive cuts.
The Conservative government welcomed the report, but thousands of people – many in remote rural areas – were horrified they would lose their local branch lines.
Opposition from the pressure groups failed and during the 1960s “Beeching’s Axe” fell on 2,128 stations and more than 67,000 British Rail jobs.