Doubt has been cast over the possible, much vaunted, reopening of a rail line linking Colne to Skipton with the news the project may not be economically viable.
A campaign which has been ongoing for several years to reopen the line may have hit the buffers, according to Pendle-based Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tony Greaves who claims that consultants appointed by the government to report on the proposal found that the route is “entirely unsuitable for freight of any kind”.
Due to the large costs involved in reopening former lines, campaigners were always well aware that the trans-Pennine link would have to carry freight, in this particular case, to the Drax power station near to Selby.
However, with the government's commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, there is concern that Drax might move awayfrom biomass production in the coming years and thus negate the need for it using the line for freight.
An initial study, which was completed in December 2018, found that it was technically feasible to re-open the line and the Department for Transport said it was working to assess the freight demand and the commercial viability of the scheme”,
Lord Greaves has now claimed that at a meeting of the Project Development Team on September 26th the new consultants announced that the route is “entirely unsuitable for freight of any kind”.
Lord Greaves has now called on the Transport Minister, Baroness Charlotte Vere to investigate what is going on in relation to the proposal.
It is only four months since former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, who visited the line at Colne, told the House of Commons: “I also believe it is of fundamental importance that we have a proper freight route across the Pennines, as well as passenger services for local communities in those areas…that, to my mind, is the central part of this work.”
Lord Greaves said: “Either the consultants have gone rogue or Lady Vere has not been properly briefed. Her positive comments are welcome but there seem to be confusion at the heart of this matter. I shall be probing the Government further as soon as the new parliamentary session starts next week. They do need to come clean now and not wait until it is too late.
“We all know that this is the best chance for a generation to get our railway line back and we must give up the struggle.”
Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson admitted to Leader Times Newspapers that without the ability to transport freight the line would struggle to be economically viable but stressed that the consultation was not due to be completed until Christmas.
He said: "The feasibility work to determine the right long-term solutions for trans-Pennine freight and passengers, and what role a reinstated Colne-Skipton link could play is still in progress.
"The provision of capacity and capability for rail freight is a key priority for the Government, and a decision will be taken once we have fully considered the needs of the rail freight sector.
"The Department for Transport will continue to work with Network Rail and Transport for the North on how best to realise the potential future benefits for trans-Pennine freight flows. The Department for Transport do not recognise Lord Greaves' quotation from the update given by DfT's consultants to SELRAP's Project Development Group.
"It would be more helpful if Lord Greaves contributed effectively to the campaign for the reopening of the line rather than issuing sensationalist press releases intent on furthering his own political agenda.”