THE battle to restore the rail link between Colne and Skipton is close to the finishing post - but there are still a few hurdles to jump.
That’s the view of Mr Derek Jennings, chairman of the Skipton and East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership, which has just celebrated its 10th birthday.
Politicians including Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson (pictured below) and Pendle peer and councillor Lord Tony Greaves were guest speakers at Selrap’s latest conference on Friday.
And key issues highlighted at the meeting were:
• An urgent need for a major assessment of the viability of the project.
• Vital direct links between cities on both sides of the county boundary.
• Electrically-powered train services on double track lines.
• Freight service links between the North-West and Yorkshire as well as passenger trains.
• Selrap has the support of 164 MPs and 44 MEPs, as well as local authorities and private industries.
Welcoming guests to the conference at the Herriots Hotel in Skipton, chairman Mr Jennings said: “It is Selrap’s 10th birthday. We have been in being for 10 years.”
He said Selrap’s progress was a bit like the Grand National, which was taking place the day after the conference. He said: “You jump over hurdles, and there is another in the way. You go on jumping over hurdles to get to the finishing post. I feel we are running down towards the finishing post. It is near, but there are still one or two hurdles to get through.”
Founder and former chairman Mr Steve Broadbent said lack of rail links in places like Colne led to an older and older community. “The railway is really the only way to get people to jobs, hospitals, leisure and other things.”
And he called on the funding for high speed trains from the South to Leeds and Manchester to include better links to the cities.
Selrap executive member David Walsh said an electrified double line leading to Preston and Manchester was a vital part of the project, boosting commuter traffic to the cities and access to Manchester Airport. And a trans-Pennine freight system would “avoid heavy HGV traffic through places like Earby”. He added: “It has been made clear to us in looking for possible investment in this that we must include freight. Freight doesn’t generate a route - routes generate freight.”
Pendle MP Mr Stephenson said: “This is a campaign that has got growing momentum. Reconnecting Colne and Skipton would be fantastic for the whole area, particularly Pendle.”
He pointed out that he had to drive to Skipton to get a train to Parliament and added: “I can literally walk to Colne Railway Station in less that two minutes! It’s a great shame that the Scottish and Welsh have made progress with railways but the English have not had the same investment.”
But he said: “It is a perfectly possible and achievable restoration of our line. Selrap are leading a fantastic campaign.”
And Lord Greaves said: “I am a strong supporter of Selrap.” And he added that it had the support of other Liberal Democrat lords and said: “I didn’t think the Tories were pro-railways but they have proved me wrong. We are getting electrification in the North-West and a key link through Manchester, so this is a pro-rail government.”
However, he said: “We are in a situation at the moment where there is not a huge amount of money to go around.” But he added: “Keep nattering people like myself to support your campaign. I hope it happens in my lifetime - I wish you all the best.”
Mr Drew Haley, client and stakehouse manager for Northern Rail, pointed out that passengers on the Colne-Blackpool line had risen by 10.8% last year.
He added: “This is a heavily-populated region. I live in Skipton, and if I want to go to Burnley or Blackburn, I have to get in my car! I think Colne-Skipton will come up with some real agglomeration benefits.”
He point out that fuel costs were spiralling up. “Petrol is getting scarce,” he said. “I can’t see petrol coming back down and that will put people back into public transport. I would want to see Skipton and Colne as a great hub.”
Mr Allan Dare, strategic development manager of Chiltern Railways, explained how its link to Oxford was being developed. Traffic on its routes have grown by almost 250% since 1996. The plan is to invest £400 million in the new line which will be finished by 2013.
North-West MEP Brian Simpson also backed the Selrap campaign. He said: “We have a good case. We are working on it happening. I am a rail buff myself. You have only to look at the map to see how strong this case is. High speed lines are only really effective when the local services link into them, so we want the link into Manchester. Speed is an issue, but reliability is another key element in making a railway work. There is still lots to be done - but we are getting there.”