Bold vision to transform our trains

hugely ambitious new plans to overhaul Harrogate’s troubled rail services have been unveiled.

New stations, greater capacity, higher frequency and improved rolling stock are all included in the proposals put forward by Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce.

Eight extra stations could be created between York and Leeds, including Bilton, Belmont, Knaresborough East, Nether Poppleton and Spen Lane/Woodside near Leeds. Cattal or Hammerton would be upgraded with park and ride facilities, which would also be included at new stops for Buttersyke Bar, Pool and Leeds Bradford Airport, all subject to investment and planning permission.

The trains would have around 40 per cent greater capacity and more standing room for short journeys. Services between Leeds, Harrogate and Knaresborough could be as frequent as every 15 minutes and trains between Harrogate and York could be every half hour.

Chamber chief executive Brian Dunsby said the plans were in line with a report by Sir Roy McNulty, looking at the future of railways through a series of locally-run pilots for low-cost, electrified trains. He is aiming to get Government funding for the project, which would cost more than £100m, but believes Harrogate is a prime candidate for it.

“The great thing about Harrogate is it’s segregated,” he said.

“Unlike Huddersfield to Leeds, which is part of the Transpennine Express, Harrogate to Leeds and Harrogate to York is an isolated line, we have no freight traffic and other routes or side connections.”

The group has used the technical expertise of Mark Leving, the former MD of Hull Trains, and wants to install a low-cost, ground level electrification system, similar to that used on the Docklands Light Railway.

It also hopes to buy rolling stock currently used in the Essex, Surrey ajd and London areas which is due to be replaced in 2014 and which the

chamber

believes will be much cheaper than new trains.

Mr Dunsby said, following a successful campaign to restore the direct rail link between Harrogate and London, he was confident the group could achieve its ambitious aims. This week, he presented the plans to Theresa Villiers, Minister for Transport, and a group of MPs whose constituencies would be affected by the plans, all of whom were supportive of the proposals.

Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, praised the group for its hard work and said: “I am pleased to have played a part in bringing this proposal in front of MPs and ministers. It is an exciting plan and part of the ongoing work to improve rail services to our area – a key part of my priorities since I became a Member of Parliament.

“Better local services will support investment in our area, bring people to Harrogate for visits, for conferences and for shopping and help to underpin the local economy.”

The chamber has already secured backing from both main parties on Harrogate Council, with Lib Dem transport spokesman Coun Reg Marsh saying it “could definitely be the answer to rail travel within Harrogate district for the foreseeable future”.

Conservative council leader Coun Don Mackenzie said: “Our conference, exhibition and tourism industry would receive a great boost from this fundamental improvement to our rail infrastructure.

“There will be those who doubt that this scheme will receive the necessary funding at a time of financial constraints - but that is exactly when pilot projects, which offer great value for money and an economic boost, are most appreciated. We are going to back this bid to the full.”

Other key figures supporting the plans include the new director of Harrogate International Centre, Angus Houston, and Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire. The chief executive of North Yorkshire County Council, Richard Flinton, has also backed the proposal.

The next step is to put together a detailed proposal for the Department for Transport in a bid to secure funding for the necessary research and feasibility studies. Mr Dunsby said he and Mr Leving, as well as the chamber as a whole, were willing to give up their time to organise the work because they believed so passionately in the project.

l Could this bid work for Harrogate? Email ackrill.news@ypn.co.uk or write to the address on Page 6.