Bidding has begun for the right to run trains on Harrogate’s rail line - a contract which could see faster and more frequent services as well as a new link to London.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has issued an invitation to tender (ITT) for the East Coast rail franchise which runs from Harrogate to York and Leeds.
And, in a surprise move which has prompted concern from campaigners, bidders are being asked to consider a new route from Harrogate to London - via York.
“It’s an optional extra - but it won’t be feasible in practical terms,” said Brian Dunsby, chief executive of the Harrogate chamber of trade, calling for more trains on the Leeds line instead.
“There is no benefit to Harrogate because of all the problems between here and there.”
The Harrogate line has two operators - Network Rail and East Coast, and the ITT now asks bidders to set out plans on how they will build on the East Coast line.
Rail minister Stephen Hammond said: “Franchising has been a force for good for our railways, delivering record growth to an industry that was once in decline. The time is now right for us to find a long-term partner, who can use their private sector expertise and knowledge to build on the significant investment planned for the route.”
Three rail companies are competing; Inter City Railways Ltd, Eurostar International, and First Group.
Campaigners, forming the Harrogate Line Supporters Group, have met with each to emphasise the importance of the route.
“Harrogate is predominantly a visitor based economy,” said Mr Dunsby, who lobbied for a twice-daily London link which was introduced in 2011 and now says a twice-hourly link should be considered. “The Harrogate line is absolutely vital for our whole visitor economy - and particularly for the conference and exhibition trade.”
Harrogate needs and deserves more train services to London, he said, but they should go via Leeds not York.
“That line is still sadly lacking,” he said. “It’s manually controlled, single track in places, and not electrified.
“It was a surprise that it was even put in. It would be very much better for Harrogate if we put more emphasis on the Leeds line, which has already been resignalled, where it is twin tracked, and it’s a shorter journey.”
The contract winner will be announched in November and the new franchise would start in March 2015.
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