Direct rail link from Rochdale to Bury and Rawtenstall could be on track

Date published: 04 December 2018

A direct rail link from Rochdale to Bury and Rawtenstall could be on track after a study found it was ‘feasible and cost effective’.

Politicians, business leaders and officers, including Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd, met with Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry in London to update him on the findings of the early strategic case for rail investment.

The study, commissioned by Rossendale Council in partnership with Lancashire County Council, looked into reconnecting Rossendale and Manchester and was carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

A letter signed by MPs and council leaders has gone to the Transport for the North (TfN) calling for the link to be included in its forthcoming Investment Programme

Five options were evaluated in the report and three would connect back to national rail network through a new track from the East Lancashire Railway terminus in Heywood; thus linking Rochdale to Bury, Ramsbottom and Rossendale.

The report describes a ‘promising option’ as a peak period shuttle service between Rawtenstall and Bury using the East Lancashire Railway and a new heavy rail link from a disused platform at Bury Bolton Street Station to Castleton.

Passengers would have full access to Manchester, Rochdale and West Yorkshire and there would be the potential to have a rail freight link at Heywood Distribution Park, which could boost industry and help to fund works

The report concludes: “Overall, we believe this work indicates that feasible options exist for investment which could deliver significant economic benefits, reduce congestion, and meet environmental targets in a way which will not harm the valuable operations of the East Lancashire Railway, and may even be to their benefit.”

Rochdale Council leader Councillor Allen Brett said: “As a borough we benefit from excellent transport links and are well connected to both public transport and the national motorway network.

“However, it’s no secret that some parts of Rochdale borough are much better served by public transport than others.

“We are already campaigning for a tram stop connecting Middleton to Manchester and would also support any rail link, such as the proposed Rossendale to Manchester line, which will better connect Heywood with the rest of our borough and also with Bury and Manchester.”

Rossendale Council leader Councillor Alyson Barnes
Rossendale Council leader Councillor Alyson Barnes

Rossendale Council leader Councillor Alyson Barnes stressed she wanted to see a commuter route working in conjunction with the existing heritage East Lancashire Railway.

Rossendale is the only borough in Lancashire without a national rail link and the congestion on the A56 and M66 at peak times has been reported as second only to London.

She said: “The East Lancashire Railway is an incredible success story, however the current commuter network between Rossendale and Manchester is not.

“We want to see the rail link treated as a high priority scheme in the forthcoming TfN Investment Programme 2020-50.”

Northern Powerhouse Minister and Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry described reconnecting Rossendale and Manchester as ‘crucial’.

He said: “I regard this link as crucial not just for Rossendale but to the whole development of the Northern Powerhouse.”

He said progress on the link had previously failed because it had not been a top priority for Lancashire County Council - but now it was.

Transport for the North is also officially considering the plans and Mr Berry said: “This is the value of having the study done.

“The next big challenge is about getting Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to prioritise it and realise the significant growth it could bring to Manchester.”

Marketing and Campaigns Director of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Chris Fletcher said: “At a time when the regional transport infrastructure is under so much scrutiny about its current capacity and future requirements this is an opportune moment to revisit a scheme that has been left on the ‘to do’ list on for such a long time.

“The ability to move people and freight around a lot easier will become even more important over the coming years to energise local economies and boost growth.

“Anything that allows that to happen for those places already connected and, more importantly for those economic areas such as Rossendale that have limited access to any major transport infrastructure, can only be welcomed.

“Getting the balance right of improving existing connections and building new links is crucial if the region’s economy is to reach its full potential.

“We hear a lot about the Northern Powerhouse but the truth is unless we can release the locked-up potential then it will never become a reality. This scheme could form an important part of that equation not just for the immediate towns involved but much further afield.”

The original Rawtenstall railway station closed in 1972 and the East Lancashire Railway extended its heritage line from Bury to Rawtenstall when it opened a new station in 1991.

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