Transport chiefs and Ministers unite over troubled rail upgrade

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Politicians and transport chiefs have united in a bid to bring about a multi-million pound upgrade to the rail line between York and Leeds, after the long-awaited scheme was dealt a blow when funding could not be found for an initial scoping report.

The Yorkshire Post has learned that the plans for the £150m electrification of the antiquated stretch of railway line have now received official support from all local authorities concerned along the route as well as the Metro West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive and the Leeds City Region Transport Panel.

Last month, the scheme was dealt an early blow, after North Yorkshire County Council chiefs indicated they could not afford to pay £250,000 for preliminary reports into the proposals which would represent the biggest improvements to the region’s rail network in nearly 20 years.

But following the new united front from all the authorities involved in the proposals, Brian Dunsby, the chief executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce which first unveiled the plans in the summer, says the money will be secured soon.

It is understood the Chamber is planning a joint public private initiative, with money donated from property developers along the line who are set to benefit from the proposals, which is then matched by the local authorities involved.

“We are confident we will get that,” said Mr Dunsby. “The whole point of the line is that it opens up development opportunities.

“The Chamber officers are delighted that all of the local authorities concerned have now agreed on the need to electrify the Harrogate line.

“This is a very significant mile post and is what we have been waiting for.”

The scheme, billed as the biggest boost to Yorkshire’s rail network since the mid-1990s, has now been split into two options. The first would be for overhead electrification similar to the improvements to the Airedale line to Skipton and Ilkley. The second option, originally proposed by the Harrogate Chamber, would be for a ground-level electrification system, similar to technology already on London’s Docklands Light Railway and in Copenhagen and Berlin. A fleet of 20 former London Underground District Line trains would be modified – costing £500,000 each – for use in Yorkshire.

Metro’s chairman, Coun James Lewis, said: “All the partners in the production of the development plan agree that something needs to be done to improve the Harrogate Line, and soon.

“It is clear from the discussions that we have had so far that the route needs electrifying and it needs doing as soon as possible. The Harrogate Line generates all-day passenger flows serving a wide range of markets including commuters at both the Leeds and York ends of the route, long distance traffic to and from London, conferences and events as well as leisure travellers.

“The development plan will need to reflect all of these different markets, as well as proposing solutions which will include serving Leeds Bradford International Airport.”

It is now being explored whether it will be possible to tie in the scheme with the planned upcoming electrification of the Trans-Pennine route.

Meanwhile, business leaders and politicians are still petitioning the Government to secure funding from £25bn due to be spent improving the nation’s rail network up until 2013-14.

“The Harrogate line upgrade is still earmarked to be completed by 2015 and it is claimed would reduce journey times by as much as 12 per cent, allowing more services on the 38-mile stretch of track.

Harrogate Borough Council’s leader, Coun Don Mackenzie, said: “All parties are now agreed that electrification of the line is the top priority. It is vital that we can speak with one voice, because only with consensus are we likely to obtain funding to take this forward.”

joe.shute@ypn.co.uk