Support for Manchester rail link in biggest ever Rossendale Council survey

Residents of Bury and Rossendale have sent a resounding show of support to a new rail link that could offer journey times as low as 44 minutes from the Valley into central Manchester.  

Eighty-six per cent of those who completed the Rossendale Council survey about the Rawtenstall to Manchester travel corridor were supportive of the potential new link that is predicted to reduce car journeys on the M66/A56 by up to three million. 

The council, which secured £50,000 funding from Restoring Your Railway and £100,000 from Lancashire County Council to appoint Systra to produce the Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC), said the response to the survey was the biggest it had ever received.  

The original Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom to Bury line closed to passengers in 1972 and to freight in 1980 – one of the last lines in the country to close in the Beeching cuts.  

Since then, the population and demand for travel has changed considerably with 55 per cent of Rossendale working age residents leaving the borough each day to access employment, and Rossendale the only local authority in Lancashire without a rail link.  

Leading options currently include an integrated train shuttle service connecting with Metrolink trams in the Bury area, or a direct train to Manchester Victoria that also includes Heywood. The line would create stations at Rawtenstall, Ewood Bridge (park and ride for Haslingden), Stubbins, Ramsbottom and Bury. 

Almost a third of those responding to the survey believed their rail use would increase in the next 12 months due to new leisure, education and employment demand.  

Council leader Alyson Barnes said: “I have always championed the Rossendale rail link. It is vital to our continued sustainable growth which is why I have been so keen for Rossendale Council to drive this forward over a number of years - hopefully we are now seeing the fruits of this strategy.  

“The massive response and support shown in this survey justifies why it is so important to the future of the borough as residents need a reliable connection to access leisure, education and employment. We are the only borough in Lancashire without a rail link and we cannot afford to miss out any longer.  

“Whichever solution is chosen will also ensure the continued success of the much-valued heritage railway so it is disappointing that the existing ELR operating company is still unwilling to see this as a solution to their long-term future. Indeed, we have been approached by other heritage railways that are seeing an integrated passenger connection as vital to their sustainability. 

“Rossendale representatives on the ELR Trust will be pushing that strategically this is considered further as the infrastructure maintenance costs budget has only a few years left, and we know that the extra income this could provide could make the whole heritage railway sustainable for future generations. Traditional stations, trains, signalling and volunteers will be protected in any proposal. The ELR could even run the trains as an open access operator, but they need to discuss this with us.” 

Some key findings from the survey include:  

  • Demand for rail travel is more likely to grow in the next 12 months – 29 per cent saw their rail use increasing with only 2 per cent seeing it declining: This is made up of a mix of new leisure, education and employment demand.  

  • To access central Manchester, 30 per cent would be very likely to use an improved bus service, but a much bigger 70 per cent were very likely to use a rail service –demonstrating a rail solution would be much stronger in getting people to use public transport with a higher environmental(?) impact. 

  • 86 per cent of residents of Bury and Rossendale who completed the survey were supportive of a new rail link into Manchester with only 11 per cent against  

  • Residents were almost equally supportive of either a Metrolink or heavy rail option, with the heavy rail to Manchester option scoring slightly higher 

  • 67 per cent of residents do not use the heritage railway or only use it occasionally and only 3.5 per cent were very satisfied with bus reliability and journey times 

Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale, said: “As sponsor of the Restoring Your Railway bid, I am pleased with the results of this survey, which have confirmed what we all know locally – that the rail link has strong local support. 

“I have hosted a meeting in Parliament this week bringing together interested MPs and will be speaking to the Department of Transport officials and ministers to push for this link to be considered further. I would urge the ELR to engage with talks, as without them round the table, this plan will fall at the next stage.”  

Sara Britcliffe, Hyndburn MP, added:” I am delighted that the survey shows strong support for the rail link. I am keen that the park and ride at Ewood Bridge has the best possible foot and cycle connections to Helmshore and Haslingden, as well as the park and ride facility.” 

The proposed link would see journey times of around 44 minutes into central Manchester and it is predicted to reduce car journeys on the M66/A56 by anywhere between one to three million.  

County councillor Charlie Edwards, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Lancashire County Council has provided an additional £100,000 for this Restoring Your Railway project which includes the technical analysis into how regular passenger trains can operate alongside heritage trains. I am pleased to see that the business case is progressing well and that it has received good support both locally and at a county level.” 

Guy Darragh, head of regeneration at Rossendale Council, said: "The strategic outline business case is progressing well and we have identified a long list of options.  

“These are being consulted on further with key stakeholders and undergoing a detailed technical analysis to ensure compatibility with the heritage railway and its operations.  

“The draft of the report will be submitted to Department of Transport in August with the final report being sent in September. If the project is progressed then we will need to go through other stages of assessment, but it is looking very positive at the moment.”