Campaigners for the return of a Colne-Skipton railway link say their business case is now stronger than ever – but they need serious support from politicians to champion the proposal at government-level.

The Skipton-East Lancashire Railway Action Group (SELRAP) say the reintroduction of the line would see fast trans-Pennine trains right across the north of England.

They have reported ‘positive’ meetings with MPs, government departments and some train companies.

Now, campaigners say the project needs a ‘sponsor’ – such as a politician or a council – to take real responsibility for lobbying at the highest government and civil service levels.

SELRAP wants a fully reinstated railway between east Lancashire, Colne, Skipton, Bradford and Leeds along the Aire Valley. At the moment, the east Lancashire side stops at Colne and is a single track with limited trains. The section to Skipton was removed in the early 1970s.

The campaign group has also said current transport and political thinking is too focused on Liverpool, Manchester and the south Pennine area at the expense of other parts of the north. And some people at meetings have little knowledge or experience of east Lancashire.

Lancashire Telegraph:

SELRAP held its annual general meeting in Colne this week, with updates on its  business case, technical studies and political lobbying. It came against the backdrop of cancelled HS2 high-speed rail links to the north and local and national elections due this year.

Speakers warned that east Lancashire has suffered years of decline, and is declining further, compared with other northern areas. Poor railway links are a key factor, they said.

Differences were highlighted by house values. Terraced houses in Skipton, where there are regular trains to Leeds and Bradford, are typically worth £100,000 more than east Lancashire homes, just 12 miles away. Train services are key factors, speakers said. The figures came from Skipton Building Society, which supports the SELRAP campaign, the meeting heard.


Lancashire Telegraph:

One update was from Chris Oakley, a professional transport and crowd estimations planner, who is a SELRAP volunteer.

He said: “Transport for the North (a government-linked body) identifies three main transport corridors across the north. The northern corridor follows the A69 and A66 between Cumbria and the north-east. The central corridor is between Preston, Leeds and Hull – our corridor. The southern corridor is along the M62 from Liverpool to Manchester and the south Pennines. But the M62 corridor is the only real major route. The M65 in Lancashire goes east and then stops. From there, the road network disintegrates into poor links.

“If we are ever to get east Lancashire and the Aire Valley (Skipton, Bradford and Leeds) properly connected then strategic road and rail improvements are needed. Neither has happened. Connections across this central Pennine corridor are dreadful. Billions are being spent on the M62 corridor but nothing on our central corridor.”

He added: “There are railway inconsistencies on either side of the Pennines. The Aire Valley line is seeing investment. It was electrified in the 1990s and has fast, frequent trains every 15 minutes. It is soon to be upgraded with bigger six-carriage trains. Passenger numbers there are 10 times greater than the Colne branch line.

Lancashire Telegraph:

“The east Lancashire branch line to Colne is probably one of the worst in the UK. It has an hourly service with diesel two-car trains. It’s the slowest of all the suburban lines in the north. It has virtually seen no investment. Trains still have to stop to allow a barrier to come down.”


Mr Oakley said some national bodies like the Department for Transport see the central Pennine route as nationally significant but ‘not big enough’. Meanwhile, Lancashire County Council, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire councils think it would be too expensive for them to lead.

He said: “We fall between the two. We’re too big for local authorities and not big enough within national schemes. Local authorities say they support us but there’s nothing pro-active done. We (SELRAP) are the ones who get the Lancashire, North and West Yorkshire councils together. If we don’t do it, things drift.”

He added: “Transport for the North has become fixated with the Northern Powerhouse (South Pennines) route. But the journey-time improvements of our scheme are enormous and would be much-more than the Powerhouse route to Leeds, which they trump about.”

Regarding an apparent dominance of big city dominance in many northern conversations, Mr Oakley added: “When I talk to people in Manchester, the number of people who come here (to east Lancashire) is quite limited. It’s quite worrying.”


Mr Oakley also highlighted the importance of being able to reach Lancashire and Yorkshire universities by train for younger people in particular.

He said: “Our scheme would bring Colne, Nelson and other east Lancashire towns within realistic journey times to big cities like Leeds and Bradford. Likewise, people in Keighley, for example, could travel to university in Preston. UCLan is a huge university. If you live on the east or west sides of the Pennines, you could go there with better links.”

He also highlighted Bradford, which has been the focus of transport debate. 

He said “Bradford's population makes it one of the UK’s youngest cities. It has similar demographics to east Lancashire. There are more people requiring skills and education in all these communities than elsewhere. Our scheme would allow people in all these communities to reach major cities. At the moment, these are far-off lands for many in east Lancashire.”

He added: “Vast sums are being sent on some transport schemes. But we say it should be equitable across the north.”