The reopening of the line, which was axed by Beeching in 1962, could bring an economic boost to the borough worth millions of pounds.
Ribble Valley Borough Council was told on Saturday that its bid to the Government’s Ideas Fund to work up a business case to reopen the line and look at options for increasing rail travel had been successful.
The Ideas Fund aims to reconnect towns, ease congestion, regenerate economies and improve accessibility to jobs, homes and education.
Complementary rail services are also under consideration, including increasing the frequency of trains between Clitheroe and Manchester and a direct route between Clitheroe and Preston.
The fund generated a high level of interest and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Ribble Valley Borough Council’s bid was one of only 10 from across the UK to get the green light.
The reopening of the Clitheroe to Hellifield line will see the restoration of rail links for passengers and freight between Clitheroe and Skipton, Leeds to the east and Lancaster and Carlisle to the north.
Ribble Valley Borough Council leader, Stephen Atkinson, said: “This is tremendous news. It will be a huge boost to the borough, worth tens of millions of pounds to the local economy and East Lancashire as a whole, by improving east to west connectivity. It will see trains going south to Leeds and London and a possible half-hourly service from Clitheroe to Manchester, taking cars off congested roads, bringing more visitors to Ribble Valley and improving connectivity for our residents to surrounding cities. The main infrastructure is already in place and the Clitheroe to Hellifield line is in good condition, which gives us a great start."
He added: “Many local rail enthusiasts and community groups have dreamed of and worked hard for this moment for many years, and this announcement is a testament to their never-say-die attitude, as well as the ingenuity of our council officers and the support of our MP Nigel Evans. We are looking forward to working with the community over the coming years to
bring this fantastic scheme to fruition.”
The news has been welcomed by Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans. He said: "This is a step forward but it is a big one. I believe we can now make a compelling case for re-opening the Clitheroe to Hellifield line for passengers. It could be completed at a modest cost within four years. It is heavily-used for freight traffic and in good condition. Various groups have been campaigning for several years for the reopening of the line, and the support the Government are now providing will enable a thorough and serious business case to be completed, and makes the dream of restoring regular services to Hellifield come one step closer. What we need after the coronavirus pandemic is economic activity in the borough. Ribble Valley will no longer be seen as dormant, in fact, with the reopening of the line and better travel connections, people from outside the area will look at the Ribble Valley as a great place to live and settle."
The reopening of the line has been something Clitheroe rail enthusiast and founder member of Ribble Valley Rail, Peter Brass, has campaigned for decades. Speaking to the Clitheroe Advertiser, he said: "This is extremely good news and we are delighted. We were promised the opening of the line in 1989, but it never happened. Lets hope it goes ahead this time. It makes sense to reopen the line as its easier connections to places and quicker and cheaper travel."
The Transport Secretary wants to reopen some of the lines closed under the infamous Beeching review, which saw 7,000 miles of railway and 2,000 stations closed across the UK in the 1960s. The next step for the Clitheroe to Hellifield scheme is a virtual session with Department for Transport officials to establish the process for moving forward.