Rail upgrade dealt early funding blow

PLANS for the £150m electrification of Harrogate and Knaresborough’s antiquated railway have been dealt an early blow, after North Yorkshire County Council chiefs indicated they could not afford to pay £250,000 for preliminary reports into the scheme.

The admission about the Leeds to York line appears in a report by David Bowe, corporate director of business and environmental services.

But the county council, which is battling to make £69m in savings to counter Government cutbacks, has said it is hopeful funding can be secured elsewhere to get the scheme, which would represent the biggest improvements to the region’s rail network in nearly 20 years, off the ground.

Brian Dunsby, chief executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce which first unveiled the plans in the summer, said: “This was exactly what we expected.

“The money isn’t what matters at the moment, what matters is to agree on what this line needs.

“We are confident we will be able to get this money elsewhere to take the reports on.

“We are also looking at private sector funding into this.”

Under the plans, billed as the biggest boost to Yorkshire’s rail network since the electrification of the Airedale line in the mid-1990s, a low-cost ground-level electrification system would be introduced, similar to technology already on London’s Docklands Light Railway and in Copenhagen and Berlin.

A fleet of 20 former London Underground trains would be modified – costing £500,000 each – for use in Yorkshire.

Each could carry about 40 per cent more passengers than the existing diesel units, with 280 rather than 207 seats. Standing passengers would also get more room.

The rest of the £150m would cover electrifying the line and building a maintenance depot.

The upgrade is earmarked to be completed by 2015 and would reduce journey times by as much as 12 per cent, allowing more services on the 38-mile stretch of track.

The proposals have united Harrogate, with business leaders and politicians currently petitioning the Government to secure funding from £25bn due to be spent improving the nation’s rail network up until 2013-14.

Harrogate Borough Council has already unanimously agreed to back the plans, while the motion to the North Yorkshire County Council area committee on December 1 for the executive to back the scheme and submit a bid as the leading transport authority alongside the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (WYPTE) and York Council, is widely anticipated to go through.

A report on the scheme was also expected to go before Leeds City Region transport chiefs on Friday.

Richard Owens, the county council’s assistant director of integrated passenger transport who wrote David Bowe’s report, said: “As a county council we recognise the need to develop the Harrogate line.

“The issues of overcrowded trains, poor quality rolling stock we support as problems in need of resolution.

“What we need to do is find a way of working together to make this happen.”