December shapes as pivotal month for £9.6m Harrogate and York rail funding
A December meeting could be the defining moment for £9.6m in funding promised for much-needed rail improvements between York and Harrogate.
North Yorkshire councillors were updated on the situation regarding proposed upgrades to the service between Knaresborough and York, which would see two trains per hour in each direction if the project proceeds.
Andrew Bainbridge, the county council's highways and transport officers, told councillors that while he would like to see the new service implemented by December this year, he wasn't "going to lie and say it is guaranteed".
The issues around the upgrade hinge around a logjam of train services using the rails north of York, with concerns surrounding whether any additional trips can be accommodated.
Operator Network Rail has commissioned an in-depth review of railway timetables at the site to see if it is possible to add more traffic to the line, which findings due to be presented at a meeting next month.
If not, it means the £9.6m in funding that had been secured for the project could be forfeited back to the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
“There is a chance that timetabling work that network rail are doing will show that it can't be accommodated," Mr Bainbridge said of the upgrade.
“At that point the LEP could say we want an outcome for our £9.6m, so therefore we are withdrawing the funding from this scheme and putting it towards something else."
Mr Bainbridge also said that despite "quite substantial costs" being sustained by the county council in pursuing the project, the authority had an "arrangement" where costs of aborting the project would be minimised - although the details of this were kept secret due to commercial confidentiality.
During questioning, Coun David Goode said the message with the funding was that "it's all or nothing".
However, Mr Bainbridge said that if the funding was lost, work done by the council could be used to potentially implement the improvements in 2023/24, instead of 2020/21.
It was a proposition that did not sit well with councillors, with Coun Goode adding that any delay to the project would be "totally acceptable".
The meeting with the council, Network Rail and the LEP is set to be held on December 12.
Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter