Restoring rail line ‘can boost local economy’

Skipton station: Campaigners want to re-open the Skipton to Colne rail line.
Skipton station: Campaigners want to re-open the Skipton to Colne rail line.
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REOPENING the rail line connecting Skipton with East Lancashire could have an economic impact of up to six times the cost, according to a new report.

Campaigners hope the findings, from respected transport consultants Arup, will help make the case for a comprehensive investigation of how the line could be rebuilt.

The 11.5 mile stretch of line between Skipton and Colne, in East Lancashire, has been closed since 1970.

But supporters of the plan to reinstate it argue the connection could help relieve pressure on the other transpennine rail routes.

Business leaders in Yorkshire have consistently argue better transpennine transport links are as important as connections to London if the regional economy is to achieve its full potential.

The Arup report suggests that the economic benefit of opening the line could be one-and-a-half times the cost based on estimates of average use.

Those benefits rise rapidly based on estimates of higher usage with an economic impact of up to six-and-a-half times the cost.

Andy Shackleton, from the Skipton East Lancashire Railway Action Partnership, said: “Every rail reopening that has taken place in the UK over the last 10 years, sadly they have been confined to Scotland and Wales, has been associated with 50 per cent more passengers than the best consultants have forecast.”

The campaign group has been encouraged by recent Government commitments to invest in the northern railway network including supporting the Northern Hub package of improvements and transpennine rail electrification.

Mr Shackleton added: “We have been heartened by all those things are happening around us but we are in the middle where nothing is happening at all and we believe because of that the local economy is stagnating.

“It needs to be more joined up.”

Despite having been closed for more than 40 years, previous studies have expressed confidence that the track could be restored relatively easily.

The latest report says that the trackbed along the route “has remained largely free of permanent development”.

The report identifies suggests the most likely way forward would be the construction of a single railway track to fill the missing link between Colne and Skipton.

Services could run from Leeds to Rose Grove, in Burnley, where passengers could change for Manchester, or go through to Preston to connect with the West Coast Mainline.

To have a chance of progressing further, a more comprehensive study known as GRIP3 would have to be carried out but this type of work costs thousands of pounds.

However, campaigners have welcomed Lancashire County Council’s decision to put together a working group with other organisations to see how the project can be progressed further.

Even if a compelling case can be made for restoring the line it is likely to be many years before the plan is put into action.

Network Rail has already published its proposals for investment in the network over the next five years which will see around £4bn spent improving local track and lines serving Yorkshire.

The plans include proposals for new stations at Low Moor, Kirkstall Forge, Apperley Bridge and Elland.