John Craven: HS2 money could reopen railways

With protestors still reeling from the Government’s go-ahead for High Speed 2 (HS2) and the impact this £43bn high speed line will have on some of England’s loveliest countryside, there are other groups of rural dwellers campaigning to have a railway on their doorstep.

In particular I’m thinking about a passionate, well-organised bunch of volunteers determined to have the 12-mile cross-Pennines stretch between the towns of Colne, Lancashire, and Skipton, North Yorkshire, reopened, thus connecting the old mill towns of Lancashire with the Yorkshire Dales and providing the missing link between the West Coast and East Coast main lines.

It closed in 1970 and though the track was torn up, the bed is still intact and members of the Skipton-East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP) walk along it from time to time and dream of what might be. It was the lowest rail link across the Pennines and passed through the little town of Earby, Lancashire, on its pretty path to the glorious, wide-open Dales.

“It is a tragedy that there has not been a reopened rail line in England outside London for about 13 years,” says SELRAP’s treasurer Roy St Pierre. “We are not talking about a heritage line – this would be a commercial project, providing a service for local people, boosting tourism, reducing road congestion and bringing economic benefits to some of the most deprived places in the country.

“Not only that, but journey times between hundreds of stations would fall by one to three hours.” It is currently possible to travel by train between Colne and Skipton, but it’s a 100-mile journey via Leeds taking two and a half hours instead of 15 minutes should the direct line get back in business.

In its 10-year existence, SELRAP has been busy marshalling support from no less than 450 councils, from parish level to county, 170 MPs, 44 MEPs, 101 peers, 148 businesses and 185 non-governmental organisations. Celebrity backers include Alan Bennett, Ian Hislop and our own Julia Bradbury.

So why isn’t anything happening? Reopening a line is a painfully slow, bureaucracy- crammed venture. The project would cost around 200 times less than HS2 and a survey predicts that for every £1 spent on it the economy would get £2.40 back. “Network Rail has made encouraging noises and been helpful, but now it’s down to political will,” Roy St Pierre tells me. “Private investors would put money up if the Government gave the go-ahead. The next step is to raise £300,000 for a full-scale feasibility study.”

Other projects, such as the campaign to reopen the 10-mile line from the seaside town of Portishead into Bristol at a cost of £37m, are also battling to get the green flag in these hard times. I wish them well and from now on I’m going to be a supporter of the Colne to Skipton railway. After all, how could I not give my backing to a scheme that promises to bring so much benefit to an area known as the Craven district!

 

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