THE government has given the green light for a campaign to reopen a key trans-Pennine rail link to passengers to move to the next stage.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has named the reinstatement of the currently freight-only Clitheroe to Hellifield line to full service as one of ten routes to move forward from his department’s ‘Ideas Fund’.

This means the scheme will get government cash to develop a business case for the proposal.

It includes plans to improve the line from Clitheroe to Blackburn and the East Lancashire Line so the current hourly service becomes every 30 mins.

The bid suggests reopening stations at Chatburn, Gisburn, Rimington and Newsholme.

It also proposes a new link at Hellifield to allow trains to turn South to Leeds and London as opposed to only running North to Carlisle.

The approval has been welcomed by Ribble Valley Council leader Cllr Stephen Atkinson, the borough’s MP Nigel Evans and Cllr Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s growth boss and Transport for the North (TfN) board member.

They believe the new trans-Pennine passenger line will benefit the whole East Lancashire economy and dovetail with any future re-opening of the now totally-closed Colne to Skipton rail link.

Mr Evans 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.”

Cllr Atkinson said: “This a great news. It would be a huge boost to Clitheroe and worth tens of millions of pounds to the Ribble Valley. It would also be a major boost to the whole East Lancashire economy by improving East to West connectivity.

“Our proposal envisages a new right turn on the Settle and Carlisle line allowing trains to go South to Leeds and London increasing freight traffic and giving a new line to the capital and improving the line to Blackburn and Manchester to give a half-hourly service to Clitheroe instead of an hourly one.

“With the main infrastructure already there it would be done before the next General Election and would complement the longer-term project to reopen the Skipton to Colne line.”

Cllr Riley said: “Clearly this announcement represents progress and that is good news. The Lancashire members of TfN are continuously advocating improved trans-Pennine East/West connectivity. This is an achievable way of doing this with benefits for Blackburn and the wider East Lancashire economy."

He added: "It would complement any future restoration of the Skipton to Colne rail link.”

Clitheroe Liberal Democrat Cllr Allan Knox said: “This is smashing news and would have real benefits for the town and the borough.”

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "A successful bid to the Ideas Fund is the first step in exploring whether a line is suitable for reopening Part of considering the Clitheroe-Hellifield scheme will be to look at how this scheme might complement the Skipton Colne proposal."