ELECTRIFYING the rail line between Leeds, Harrogate and York would pave the way for a dramatic increase in services and cut journey times, according to a new report.
Consultants asked to examine the case for overhead electrification found that the move would allow for up to twice as many services along the length of the line.
Journey times from one end of the line to the other would be cut by up to 15 minutes.
The increased capacity on the line would mean cars together covering over 1.8m miles a year could be taken off the region’s roads.
The study was commissioned by Metro, the West Yorkshire Integrated Transport Authority, with support from North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Council and York Council to help make the case for securing investment from the Government.
Brian Dunsby, chief executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce and one of the leading figures in the electrification campaign, said: “It is excellent news that the business case for electrifying the Leeds-Harrogate-York line has demonstrated good value for money in terms of capital cost against long-term economic benefits and also substantial operating cost savings with modern electric trains replacing the old diesel units.
“Harrogate’s economy depends mainly on visitors for both business and leisure, so with our roads being so congested we must rely upon the trains to bring more visitors to Harrogate all the year round for conferences, exhibitions and events as well as for leisure tourism, hospitality and shopping.
“The business case has confirmed what Harrogate Chamber has campaigned for over several years, namely four trains per hour between Leeds and Harrogate and two per hour between Harrogate and York together with extra trains early morning and later in the evenings and especially at weekends.”
Mr Dunsby said the Chamber would be pressing for extra parking along the line as well as two new stations with park and ride facilities.
Metro’s executive board will be told that of all the rail routes in the Leeds City Region considered for electrification “the Harrogate Line has by far the strongest case”.
The report suggests that electrifying the Harrogate line will reduce the cost of operating services on the route and help the economy by making it easier for people to access job opportunities.
It would also make the area more attractive to business by speeding up links to East Coast Main Line services to London and Edinburgh and the new high speed rail line HS2 which is due to be built to Yorkshire in the next 20 years.
Further work is ongoing to finalise the estimated costs of the project with more details expected to emerge later this month.
The report warns that the process Ministers use to decide where money is invested in the rail network makes it likely that work would not start until 2019 at the earliest.
But it also highlights the Government’s desire to invest in infrastructure projects as part of efforts to kickstart the economy and suggests this may bring earlier opportunities to secure funding.
The Coalition has demonstrated an enthusiasm for rail electrification, having already approved such an upgrade for the transpennine line between Manchester and Yorkshire.
Overhead electrification is central to a package of improvements campaigners argue are critical to exploiting the Harrogate line’s potential.
The Government has allocated up to £14.4m to be spent on major transport projects in North Yorkshire between 2015 and 2019.
The county council has proposed spending £12m on double tracking a stretch of the line between Harrogate and York.
Signal improvements are also planned.