Local leaders have welcomed the news in the recent budget that Rossendale Council’s bid to take the next step towards the restoration of passenger rail services between Rawtenstall, Bury and Manchester has been approved by central government.
The success of the council’s bid to the government’s Restoring Your Railways fund means it will also receive contributions from Lancashire County Council and the Department for Transport towards the cost of developing a Strategic Outline Business Case.
The announcement marks an early success in the project to create a regular passenger service using the same infrastructure as the existing heritage railway.
The proposal has been developed by some of the leading technical rail consultants in the country with the specific remit of finding an innovative working solution and ensuring the continued success of the heritage railway.
The proposed link would see journey times of around 50 minutes into central Manchester and it is predicted to reduce car journeys on the M66/A56 by anywhere between one to three million.
The link which would have a relatively low cost as much of the infrastructure is already in place and would see the tram system also utilised with a specially designed interchange station at Buckley Wells to enable a fast seamless connection with Metrolink as well as through ticketing.
The plan would also enable the Heritage railway to operate a similar timetable with its heritage trains as it currently does and would see the retention of the steam age stations and signalling with the role of volunteers protected.
The original line closed to passengers in 1972 and means Rossendale is the only borough in Lancashire without a rail link. Rossendale also has high levels of commuter outflow, particularly to Greater Manchester, with over 50 percent of employed residents commuting out of the borough.
The Strategic Outline Business Case will build upon earlier work commissioned by Rossendale Council and will show the benefits of the proposal in relation to its costs.
Rossendale Council Leader Alyson Barnes said: “This is a huge step forward for the link that is very much needed for Rossendale to help in securing the local economy with inward investment, job creation and also the environmental benefits that the link could bring. The sheer hard work of Rossendale Council to not let this project die has helped to secure this funding.
“We value the East Lancs Railway and we would not have supported a solution that damaged the heritage railway, which is a valuable and much loved asset for Rossendale. This really is a possible way forward and further dialogue is needed between the partner organisations.”
Cllr Barnes continued: “Rail re-openings take considerable time and there will still be challenges ahead but this is a good step forward for our economy, environment and the thousands of people that have to struggle on the congested road system”.
County Councillor Charlie Edwards, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Improving transport links within and beyond Rossendale with a focus on expanding people’s travel options beyond car use is one of the priorities identified in our highways and transport masterplan for East Lancashire.
“Rossendale’s natural geography is one of its greatest features, but also places constraints on what is viable and affordable in terms of creating better transport links.
“It therefore makes complete sense to explore the use of the existing heritage railway infrastructure to create a regular passenger service to Manchester and investigate the case for the further investment which could help to unlock greater opportunities for people in Rossendale, while enabling the local economy to grow sustainably.
“The Restoring Your Railways fund depends on local partners showing their commitment to the progress of schemes through match-funding and I’m pleased to give our backing to this important study.”
The railways strategy is determined by the East Lancashire Railway Trust Board where Rossendale is represented by three councillors; the findings of the study will be presented to the leaders of Rossendale, Bury and Rochdale who own the line as well as councillors who sit on the strategic Trust Board. A Rossendale Council Cabinet report on the proposal is scheduled for 10th November.