Two major Yorkshire businesses have backed plans to re-open an 11-and-a-half mile rail link between Skipton and Lancashire which has been closed for nearly five decades.
Representatives from Drax and Skipton Building Society were both at a recent meeting in Westminster which was seen by campaigners as a turning point in their fight to re-open the Skipton-Colne line.
The route, which opened in October 1848, has been the subject of years of determined efforts to bring it back into use since being closed in February 1970.
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 is said to limit the vital East-West transport connections the North needs to thrive.
The Westminster meeting was attended by MPs from both parties, as well as representatives from Lancashire, Bradford and North Yorkshire councils, professional services firm Arup and Peel Ports in Liverpool.
Campaigners from the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership 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.
As a nation we can benefit from a fast, efficient railway that allows more free movement of goods between manufacturers, their distribution hubs and their markets across the north of England and beyond.Graham Backhouse
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.
Graham Backhouse, head of Supply Chain and Logistics at Drax, whose UK operations includes Drax Power Station, between Selby and Goole said the route “has the potential to have a major impact in improving rail links right across the country for passengers and freight, helping businesses and boosting the UK’s economy”.
He added: “It will have a direct impact on improving our supply chain, allowing freight trains to travel much more quickly to the power station – reducing journey times from the Port of Liverpool to Drax in North Yorkshire to less than three hours, a journey which can take up to nine hours at the moment.
“As a nation we can benefit from a fast, efficient railway that allows more free movement of goods between manufacturers, their distribution hubs and their markets across the north of England and beyond.”
Skipton Building Society’s head office is just a couple of miles from the Lancashire border, and around a quarter of its 1,500 staff live in a Lancashire postcode but have no direct train travel options.
It is feared the lack of a direct train to Lancashire may affect the firm’s ability to retain and attract talented workers.
Chief executive David Cutter said: “We are pleased to help and support the SELRAP group in its campaigning for the reopening of the Skipton-Colne railway line as part of the national network for passenger and freight.”
Mr Cutter added: “At Skipton Building Society we recognise that improved links between East Lancashire and Leeds will bring economic and social benefits to our heartland and we are proud to support that.”