Inside track: The long journey to new £9 million Harrogate-York rail improvements

Harrogate passengers have got used to delays on the railways in recent years but this particular late arrival has been overdue for the best part of a decade.

Friday, 27th November 2020, 3:32 pm
Updated Friday, 27th November 2020, 3:39 pm

The recent news that major improvements to Harrogate-York services are finally about to happen has created an almost seismic shock among people campaigning for a better deal for commuters, not because it was the first time they had heard such claims but because it wasn’t.

The engineering work on the £9,85mllion rail line scheme, which began last weekend and will continue for the next two, will result in significantly improved reliability and capacity on a busy and popular route.

Harrogate passengers - and businesses can look forward to major improvements on the Harrogate to York railway line and services.

More importantly, it will mean the possibility of introducing two trains per hour in each direction between Harrogate and York after years of dashed hopes and unfulfilled promises.

The North Yorkshire County Councillor closely associated with efforts to improve the line says the project will benefit everybody who uses the route.

Executive member for access and transport, Coun Don Mackenzie, said: “We are delighted that we are investing in this improvement to the Harrogate line and to be working with Network Rail on this long-awaited scheme which will benefit everybody who uses the route.”

But it’s been a hard road getting to the point where our train tracks will no longer use centuries-old technology.

In fact, the original bid for the funding was made by North Yorkshire County Council back in 2013.

A hint of the complexities of pulling off such a major project in modern Britain lies in the fact the whole project had had to progress through Network Rail’s scheme development process called Governance for Rail Investment Project or GRIP.

Comprising eight different stages, as recently as April of this year a county council executive report showed the Harrogate-York rail project had only reached stage five...

But real work has now finally begun on the rail improvement project, including crucial changes to the track layout at Cattal railway station.

This will mean trains will be able to travel through the area at 40mph, up from the current speed of 20mph, enabling two trains to arrive in the station at the same time.

And the project will finally bring the modernisation if the signalling system which, until now, has included an antiquated practice known as token signalling, a system where a train driver must physically pass an object, known as a token, to a signaller before the train can move forward.

Work is also going ahead to install new safety measures at some level crossings on the routes for when an increased number of trains begin running on the route.

The funding for the £9,854,000 funding, which should be completed before Christmas, will be provided primarily by the York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership from the Government’s Local Growth Fund.

The county council will contribute £200,000 from its parking surpluses via the Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE).

The end result of all the signalling system upgrades, changes to the track layout and new safety measures should mean more than a step forward for rail passengers, important as that is.

It’s also potentially a major tonic for businesses and employees as the Harrogate district fights against the economic impact of Covid-19 and prepares to emerge, hopefully, into a brighter world.

Martin Gerrard, president of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said: “The boost in the number of trains between Harrogate and York that will ensue once the improvements are effected, is a great improvement.

“It increases the ease to connect with the York Rail Hub and therefore the rest of the country, which when added to the direct links with London via Leeds, allows better access to Harrogate and the Dales.

“In addition, businesses and the local economy will gain significantly and possibly reduce road traffic in and out of Harrogate. A great initiative and one that aids connectivity.”

All sides involved seem to be delighted at this long overdue breakthrough for rail services from Harrogate to York.

Harrogate Borough Council has backed the works, which will not only improve services to the town, but also at a key point in the track where its Local Plan is proposing to build 3,000 new homes as part of a new settlement on the A59, close to Cattal Station.

HBC’s member for carbon reduction and sustainability, Coun Phil Ireland said: “The council formally supported the proposals through the funding process and we look forward to working in future to maximise the economic benefits two trains per hour between Knaresborough and York would bring.”

David Dickson of York, North Yorkshire and East Riding LEP said: “Improving the connectivity between Harrogate and York presents significant economic growth opportunities and the funding secured by the LEP has helped unlock this potential.”

Luke Espin, Sponsor for Network Rail, said: “We’re really happy to be working alongside North Yorkshire County Council and the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership on this scheme.

“This is a fantastic example of organisations working together to get the best results for the community and we know that improving reliability and capacity between Poppleton and Knaresborough will bring significant benefits for passengers using the route."

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