Green light nearer for bid to re-open vital rail link between Yorkshire and Lancashire

Andy Shackleton of the campaign group SELRAP
Andy Shackleton of the campaign group SELRAP
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Measuring 11-and-a-half miles from end to end, it represents little more than a thousandth of the length of the UK’s total rail network.

But the line between Skipton in North Yorkshire and the town of Colne, over the border in Lancashire, has been the subject of years of determined efforts to bring it back into use since being closed in February 1970.

The line between Skipton and Colne was opened in 1848.

The line between Skipton and Colne was opened in 1848.

As well as making it much harder for people in Lancashire to reach Skipton for work, and vice versa, the lack of a rail link between the two nearby towns creates a missing link that limits the East-West transport connections the North needs to thrive.

But now, thanks to the lobbying work of the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP), which formed in 2001, there could be light at the end of the tunnel in the battle to return the line to its former glory.

Campaigners were last week joined at a Westminster meeting by representatives from rail and council officials, as well as Labour and Tory MPs and major businesses who back the reopening of the line.

Crucially, they received encouragement from leading officials at Transport for the North, the body formed in 2015 to create an overall transport strategy for the entire region.

“For about £100 million and 11-and-a-half miles of new track the nation could achieve a new trans-Pennine rail link which is obviously a relatively small sum when compared with the costs of high speed rail.

John Grogan MP

They came away feeling confident that the project, which would cost £100m to make a reality, will be included in TfN’s strategic transport plan when it is published next year.

If this does happen, it would mean the reopening of the route would be presented to the Government as a strategic priority for boosting the region’s economic growth, a potentially vital step in opening up sources of funding and securing private investment.

Andy Shackleton, of SELRAP, said officials at the meeting made statements suggesting the project could now be fast-tracked.

He said: “We really do believe this could be a turning point for the campaign. I believe that the swingometer is moving from the ‘possible’ to the ‘probable’ sector, we came away with ‘probable’ in our minds.”

The Skipton-Colne line closed in 1970.

The Skipton-Colne line closed in 1970.

Keighley MP John Grogan, who was at the meeting, said: “For about £100 million and 11-and-a-half miles of new track the nation could achieve a new trans-Pennine rail link which is obviously a relatively small sum when compared with the costs of high speed rail.

“The presence of so many businesses at our meeting in the Commons shows the potential for increased freight traffic.

“Passengers at Keighley and Skipton would also have the chance to travel directly to towns in East Lancashire and beyond to Manchester Airport and Manchester.

“Following the meeting I am confident that the scheme will feature in the Transport of North Plan to be published in January. The task then will be to persuade the Government to fund it in the period 2020 to 2025.”

The line between Skipton and Colne was opened in October 1848, part of the Leeds and Bradford Railway’s Shipley to Colne extension and at a cost of £67,000.

It was not listed for closure as part of Dr Beeching’s 1963 ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ report, but closed in February 1970.

It is hoped that by re-opening the rail link between Skipton and Lancashire, it will make it easier for freight and passengers to travel across the Pennines, easing the pressure on the trans-Pennine route and the M62. But further work would still be needed to improve travel times along other parts of the route.

Jonathan Spruce, Interim Strategy Director at Transport for the North, declined to confirm or deny which specific projects would be in the pan-Northern transport plan to be published in early 2018.

He said: “We put out our position statement around our strategic transport plan in June, and we say there is clear evidence of a lack of East-West connectivity and resilience for passengers but also for freight.

“Following that we identified the seven strategic development corridors, of which was the Central Pennines Corridor.

“We are now working with our partners to under what what the key transport interventions are in each of the transport corridors.

“Our strategic transport plan will be published for formal consultation in early 2018 and will be the first attempt to set out a long-term transport plan for the North.”