Why we must get on track with rail link

Rossendale Free Press - - The Rossendale Scribbler -

WILL Rossendale ever get a rail link? The pub­li­ca­tion late last year of a re­port com­mis­sioned by Rossendale coun­cil sug­gests the an­swer could be yes – but it’s a big could.

The study for Rossendale coun­cil chal­lenged pre­vi­ous re­ports by ex­perts which had urged lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to fo­cus on im­prov­ing bus links be­tween Rossendale and Manch­ester in­stead on the grounds that up­grad­ing the East Lan­cashire Rail­way to meet reg­u­lar rail ser­vice re­quire­ments would be too ex­pen­sive.

The new study con­cluded a rail­way link back into Rossendale could be vi­able – which is progress in it­self.

But the like­li­hood of ac­tu­ally be­ing able to board a reg­u­lar com­muter train from Rawten­stall to, well, any­where, within the next 20 years seems slim.

That said, at least the lat­est re­port pro­vides a plan which Rossendale coun­cil can now start work­ing with other coun­cils on.

A to­tal of 14,000 peo­ple flow out of Rossendale to work a day, 9,000 of which head into Greater Manch­ester. Al­most all travel by car. Com­pare that to High Peak – to the right of Greater Manch­ester on the map and com­pa­ra­ble to Rossendale in many ways – and 44 per cent of

peo­ple from there com­mut­ing into Manch­ester go by train – be­cause they have one.

To make the plan more cost-ef­fec­tive, and there­fore more likely to be sup­ported by Gov­ern­ment, the lat­est think­ing is to make the East Lan­cashire Rail­way line from Bury to Castle­ton a Na­tional Rail link again, mak­ing ser­vices from Bury to Manch­ester Vic­to­ria (and in­deed into York­shire the other way) pos­si­ble.

The East Lan­cashire Rail­way – whose main­te­nance of the line into Rossendale is the rea­son why we can even talk about de­vel­op­ing reg­u­lar rail ser­vices again – could then run com­muter ser­vices up and down its line, with min­i­mum im­pact on its other op­er­a­tions.

Of course, the sup­port of the ELR is crit­i­cal to any plan.

Up un­til now, the prospect of hav­ing to make sig­nif­i­cant changes to the in­fra­struc­ture along the line into Rossendale so it com­plies with reg­u­lar rail ser­vice reg­u­la­tions has been seen as in­com­pat­i­ble with op­er­at­ing a her­itage rail­way.

On one hand, the new plan should make the idea of com­muter ser­vices more suitable to a her­itage rail­way, but it’s hard to work out what ex­actly we’d travel from Rawten­stall to Bury on in the first place.

The plan pro­poses

us­ing re­fur­bished Lon­don Un­der­ground trains on ser­vices from Bury to Manch­ester, as is hap­pen­ing else­where in the coun­try.

They aren’t par­tic­u­larly

comfy, but pre­sum­ably any train ser­vice is bet­ter than no train ser­vice at all? Maybe, maybe not. The idea of trav­el­ling from Rawten­stall to

Manch­ester by train does ap­peal, but I’m less con­vinced peo­ple will ditch the car – even if the M66 is a night­mare – to travel on a her­itage shut­tle train from Rawten­stall to Bury, then change on to a re­fur­bished un­der­ground train to travel from Bury to Manch­ester.

If you’re go­ing to have to change at Bury, why not just run the shut­tle ser­vices now and ask peo­ple to get the Metro into Manch­ester?

There’s no doubt Rossendale needs a rail link to pros­per in the

fu­ture and the plan put for­ward to Rossendale coun­cil has much to ap­peal to neigh­bour­ing coun­cils, too.

But we’re a long way from it be­com­ing a re­al­ity, and in try­ing to make the case for a rail link fi­nan­cially vi­able, the ques­tion needs to be asked whether too much has been taken out to make it an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive to the car, re­gard­less of how bad the M66 can be.

And this is from some­one who’d dearly love to never drive on the M66 in rush hour again!

Peter Byrne

●● Would com­muters re­ally ditch the car to travel on a her­itage shut­tle train from Rawten­stall to Bury then change on to a re­fur­bished un­der­ground train from Bury to Manch­ester?

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