Tom Ingall

The cam­paign to re­open Skip­ton-Colne is gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, with the De­part­ment for Trans­port an­nounc­ing a full fea­si­bil­ity study and Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling pay­ing a per­sonal visit. TOM INGALL re­ports

Rail (UK) - - Contents - RAIL pho­tog­ra­phy: TOM INGALL

“It is as ba­sic as the rail­way gets. A bus shel­ter, a ticket ma­chine and a cou­ple of name boards serve less than 100,000 pas­sen­gers a year. The short trains ar­rive, pause for a few min­utes, and de­part back the way they came.”

“This is not good news. This is fan­tas­tic news!”

Peter Bryson, chair­man of the Skip­ton and East Lan­cashire Rail Ac­tion Part­ner­ship (SELRAP), is in ebul­lient mood, quite against the pre­vail­ing weather and early hour. A lit­tle wet snow falls on the plat­form at Colne, in Lan­cashire, as a wel­com­ing com­mit­tee grows in size - not for the hourly ser­vice to Pre­ston, but in­stead for the ar­rival of Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port Chris Grayling.

Since it was es­tab­lished in 2001, cam­paign­ing and con­vinc­ing oth­ers to join the cause, this is a spe­cial mo­ment for SELRAP. The Gov­ern­ment has an­nounced it will fund a full fea­si­bil­ity study into re­build­ing the rail­way across county bound­aries, back into York­shire to con­nect just north of Skip­ton ( RAIL 846).

A for­lorn set of rust­ing buf­fer stops stand at the end of the sin­gle-track line through Colne plat­form. Since Fe­bru­ary 2 1970, they have fended off po­ten­tial com­muters and pas­sen­ger flows. Just 12 miles of track bed sep­a­rates them from the rails in York­shire. But to­day, al­most 48 years to the day af­ter clo­sure, there is a feel­ing of vin­di­ca­tion in the air.

Says Bryson: “As of to­day, we have nearly 500 paid-up mem­bers, thou­sands of other sup­port­ers, and about 50 busi­nesses back­ing us. We are a ma­jor cam­paign­ing group.

“Very sim­ply, this is about eco­nomics, growth and ed­u­ca­tion. Where we are stand­ing in Pen­dle is one of the most de­prived ar­eas in the UK. Yet 30 miles away are two of the big­gest cities - Leeds and Manch­ester. There are job op­por­tu­ni­ties there.

“Peo­ple from here should be able to get there by safe, ef­fi­cient and mod­ern pub­lic trans­port. It’s as sim­ple as that.”

It is, of course, still pos­si­ble to take a train from Colne to Skip­ton, but it’s a very long way round and it will take you nearly three hours.

Bryson con­tin­ues: “We have a reg­u­lar chal­lenge be­tween the train op­er­a­tor Ar­riva and one of our old age pen­sion­ers, who is a run­ner. He can run from here to Skip­ton, quicker than you can get the train. You couldn’t in­vent it in the 21st cen­tury!”

When the rail­way first ar­rived in Colne, the buf­fer stops would have been at the other end of the plat­form. Opened in 1848, the sta­tion was the ter­mi­nus of the Mid­land Rail­ways ex­ten­sion from Skip­ton. Six months later, the East Lan­cashire Rail­way ar­rived from the other di­rec­tion and through run­ning across this part of the Pen­nines be­came pos­si­ble.

A fa­mil­iar story of rise and fall fol­lowed. Sta­tion build­ings, en­gine and car­riage shed, freight fa­cil­i­ties… all have come and gone. The Beech­ing re­port, how­ever, did not rec­om­mend the route for clo­sure. And as late as 1967, a Min­istry for Trans­port re­port iden­ti­fied the line not only for re­ten­tion, but as the fu­ture ONLY route into Skip­ton!

But a year later, ev­ery­thing changed. Skip­ton would re­tain its other lines, and in­stead the rail­way to Colne and the re­main­ing in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tions would shut.

Fol­low­ing the last through train to Skip­ton in 1970, Colne was down­graded to an un­staffed halt. To­day, it is as ba­sic as the rail­way gets. A bus shel­ter, a ticket ma­chine and a cou­ple of name boards serve fewer than 100,000 pas­sen­gers a year. The short trains ar­rive, pause for a few min­utes, and de­part back the way they came. Op­po­site the en­trance ramp, weeds are claim­ing the pav­ing slabs of the for­mer east­bound plat­form, which still sur­vives. The whole branch from Burn­ley was sin­gled in the 1980s.

Con­trast this with the po­ten­tial des­ti­na­tion. Skip­ton rail­way sta­tion is staffed, has wit­nessed sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment fol­low­ing elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the Aire Val­ley lines from Leeds, and wel­comed 1.1 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2016-17. More than nine mil­lion pas­sen­gers used the Airedale Line in York­shire in 2017.

What re­mains of the line be­tween the two is tan­ta­lis­ing. The trackbed is for the large part un­ob­structed, in part in pub­lic own­er­ship, al­though not with­out chal­lenges. Very early in its cam­paign­ing, SELRAP pro­duced its own re­port about the work that would be re­quired for re­in­state­ment. This was fol­lowed in 2003 by a Steer Davies Gleave study, com­mis­sioned by Lan­cashire and North York­shire County Coun­cils.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, at the time there were se­ri­ous pro­pos­als for a new road to by­pass sev­eral vil­lages and to bet­ter link the two counties, and which would have been built over the re­dun­dant for­ma­tion. The road cost was given as £ 37 mil­lion, while the ba­sic sin­gle-track rail­way pro­posal was es­ti­mated at £ 33m.

The two most se­ri­ous ob­sta­cles to re­open­ing are at ei­ther end of the line.

Im­me­di­ately be­yond those buf­fers at Colne is an all-weather sports pitch and then a ma­jor road ( Vi­vary Way) bi­sect­ing the route. The lat­ter is likely to need to cross the rail­way us­ing an un­der­pass, a scheme al­ready de­signed by Lan­cashire County Coun­cil.

Fur­ther north there are drainage is­sues, small level cross­ings (of the sort which have be­come a com­pli­ca­tion for the pro­pos­als to re­open the March-Wis­bech line) to re­in­state or re­move, and at the vil­lage of Earby do­mes­tic gar­dens have en­croached onto the for­ma­tion.

Bridges need re­plac­ing, a gas main has been laid along a sec­tion of the route, and fi­nally, just be­fore the junc­tion at Skip­ton (about half a mile north of the sta­tion), the town by­pass has also driven across the trackbed on an em­bank­ment. Clearly some sort of sub­stan­tial new bridge will be re­quired.

SELRAP now be­lieves the cost of re­in­state­ment will likely be around £100m.

“There are is­sues,” ac­knowl­edges Bryson. “There are some lo­cal res­i­dents who will be af­fected, but all of the is­sues are far less se­ri­ous than those which have been over­come

else­where in the UK - for ex­am­ple, on the Bor­ders Rail­way. That £100m is a re­al­is­tic fig­ure which has been ver­i­fied by peo­ple in the in­dus­try.”

Other con­sul­tants have fol­lowed up the Steer Davies Gleave re­port. A large part of SELRAP’s work has been not only keep­ing the project in the pub­lic eye, but also re­fresh­ing and up­dat­ing the ev­i­dence base for it.

The costs will, of course, de­pend to a great ex­tent on what sort of rail­way is re­built. In its 2003 re­port, Steer Davies Gleave con­sid­ered op­tions but noted that lo­cal pas­sen­ger flows alone would barely jus­tify the re­open­ing, and also that the po­ten­tial for freight oper­a­tions ap­peared to be very low. Fif­teen years later, and it seems the mood mu­sic on the lat­ter point has changed.

Await­ing the Trans­port Sec­re­tary’s ar­rival in Colne are a num­ber of prom­i­nent busi­ness play­ers, in­clud­ing Andy Koss, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Drax Power Sta­tion (some 65 miles away near Selby).

“We’ve been in­volved in the cam­paign from an early time,” he con­firms.

“The rail­ways are a life­line for our busi­ness, much of which comes through Peel Port in Liver­pool. It takes up to nine hours to do the 90 miles from Liver­pool to Drax by rail. Open­ing this line would bring that down to three hours. This will give us much more re­silience in the sup­ply chain by pro­vid­ing more ca­pac­ity.

“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.”

Time has marched on, and this is now a much big­ger pro­posal than a Bor­ders-style pas­sen­ger rail­way. With talk of ma­jor new traf­fic flows, it is clear that the fea­si­bil­ity study will be ex­am­in­ing a dou­ble-track line. Like­wise, be­yond the core pro­posal, Burn­ley to Colne is ex­pected to be dou­ble-tracked. And fur­ther afield, some ex­ist­ing struc­tures could re­quire re­build­ing as part of a gauge en­hance­ment pro­gramme.

An­other chal­lenge for the cam­paign has been the need to reach out­side of tra­di­tional lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ment bound­aries. This area does not speak with the voice of one au­thor­ity.

Bryson ex­plains: “The trans-Pen­nine el­e­ment of this project isn’t where the cam­paign started, but in the last few years it has be­come ob­vi­ous that as well as the re­gional econ­omy in this area, there is also a de­mand for bet­ter links across the whole of the north from Liver­pool to Hull. That’s why the busi­nesses sup­port us. They can see the big pic­ture - an al­ter­na­tive to the con­gested tran­sPen­nine routes and in­deed the M62.”

Lo­cally, the Skip­ton Build­ing So­ci­ety is a big em­ployer adding its weight to the cause. Chief Ex­ec­u­tive David Cut­ter re­ports that 1,600 peo­ple work at the head­quar­ters in the North York­shire town, but only a quar­ter travel

We have a reg­u­lar chal­lenge be­tween the train op­er­a­tor Ar­riva and one of our old age pen­sion­ers, who is a run­ner. He can run from here to Skip­ton, quicker than you can get the train. Peter Bryson, Chair­man, Skip­ton and East Lan­cashire Rail Ac­tion Part­ner­ship

from Lan­cashire. “It’s vi­tal for the sus­tain­able growth of the busi­ness that we can at­tract tal­ent, and there is a huge pool of tal­ent in East Lan­cashire and north Manch­ester.”

Back on Colne plat­form, the great and the good have gath­ered and are joined by Pen­dle MP An­drew Stephenson and Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling.

Rarely can this sta­tion have wit­nessed so many peo­ple, with the throng out­num­ber­ing the hand­ful of pas­sen­gers await­ing the next train. And when it ar­rives, there is a rip­ple of amuse­ment - it’s a Pacer, held up by many as the nadir of ru­ral branch lines. Should Skip­ton to Colne ever re­open, it’s un­likely that any of this class will ever tra­verse the line as they are due to go for scrap by 2020.

Elected in 2010, Stephenson had spo­ken about the re­open­ing cam­paign in his maiden speech in the Com­mons.

“I think this rail re­open­ing would have a trans­for­ma­tional ef­fect,” he tells RAIL. “I’m de­lighted by the prospect of a full study. We are in Pen­dle, in Colne, ‘at the end of the line’. It’s the end of the rail­way, the end of the mo­tor­way.

“To travel to York­shire, you have to get through some of the worst con­ges­tion in East Lan­cashire. I would say it’s a com­plete no-brainer to re­open this route to create a new east-west con­nec­tion across the Pen­nines. It would trans­form the lives of young peo­ple here to be able to ac­cess jobs in Skip­ton, Brad­ford and Leeds - op­por­tu­ni­ties which are cur­rently com­pletely closed off to them.”

The fea­si­bil­ity study is a joint com­mis­sion be­tween the De­part­ment for Trans­port and Trans­port for the North. There is no word yet as to who will un­der­take the work, with a ten­der­ing process to fol­low in due course. Funded by the DfT (with a cost some­where in the ‘hun­dreds of thou­sands’ re­gion), it is ex­pected to be com­plete be­fore the end of the year.

Stephenson firmly be­lieves it will demon­strate a pos­i­tive eco­nomic case. Shel­ter­ing be­neath a brolly as Fe­bru­ary tight­ens its grip, he shep­herds Grayling along the plat­form to­wards the dim red stop light at the end of the track. Grayling also strikes an up­beat tone: “I think there is a strong case. I wouldn’t be here oth­er­wise. Both for pas­sen­ger ser­vices and freight ser­vices, this is a link which could make a real dif­fer­ence.”

He won’t be drawn on what Ben­e­fit:Cost Ra­tio he will need to see be­fore com­mit­ting to re­open­ing: “I don’t have a set num­ber in ad­vance. I just want to be clear the case is there and strong, and that the ca­pac­ity is there, too.

“If we take more freight trains and pas­sen­ger trains across this route, will we get them through to Leeds and so forth? So we need to look at things at ei­ther end, too.

“This is clearly a trans­port op­por­tu­nity, in a part of the world that needs bet­ter trans­port links. We need a whole set of im­proved con­nec­tions across the Pen­nines that can’t just be be­tween Manch­ester and Leeds, we have to do things fur­ther north as well.”

As to the costs be­yond the fea­si­bil­ity study, Grayling adds: “We have a bud­get for the next rail Con­trol Pe­riod to be spent on projects which make a dif­fer­ence to freight. We’re not do­ing this on a whim, there is a real prospect for do­ing this. Peo­ple ex­pect the case to stack up.”

The party re­tires into the warmth of a small com­mu­nity cen­tre across the road. The Pacer and its pas­sen­gers rumble away, and quiet re­turns to this iso­lated out­post of the na­tional rail net­work.

It’s far too early to con­fi­dently an­nounce Colne’s new sta­tus as an en route call­ing point, rather than a ter­mi­nus. How­ever, the an­nounce­ment of fea­si­bil­ity study fund­ing means that for the first time in decades, re­vival - rather than just re­ver­sal - is se­ri­ously in mind.

It takes up to nine hours to do the 90 miles from Liver­pool to Drax by rail. Open­ing this line would bring that down to three hours.

Andy Koss, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, Drax Power Sta­tion

Right: About a mile north of Colne, the for­ma­tion passes un­der Red Lane bridge. Be­sides the ob­vi­ous clear­ance work re­quired, new drains will also have to be in­stalled if the Skip­ton-Colne line is to re­open.

Be­low: At­tached to Red Lane bridge, a mod­ern sign con­firms that the trackbed is not a pub­lic right of way.

There were a num­ber of small cross­ings along the line. At Slip­per Hill, about a mile and a half north of Colne sta­tion, the cross­ing gate posts still stand (al­most!) wait­ing for a train.

Hav­ing ar­rived two min­utes ear­lier, North­ern 150228 has an­other five min­utes to stand be­fore form­ing the 0921 back to Pre­ston on Fe­bru­ary 3. The jour­ney takes about an hour and a quar­ter.

Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling is es­corted around the ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties at Colne sta­tion on Fe­bru­ary 3 by Pen­dle MP An­drew Stephenson.

The end of the line. The buf­fer stops at Colne on Fe­bru­ary 3. It’s hard to be­lieve a dou­ble-track rail­way once con­tin­ued north­wards from here. The all-weather foot­ball pitch can be seen, as can the cars on Vi­vary Way - the first ma­jor ob­sta­cles to re­in­state­ment. The for­ma­tion con­tin­ues to the left of the new houses in the dis­tance.

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