Why we must get on track with rail link
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!
●● 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?