Revolution Very Light Rail vehicle (1)

UK: Rossendale Council has submitted proposals to the Department for Transport outlining a business case for development of a passenger service between Rawtenstall and Manchester which would run over the existing heritage East Lancashire Railway.

The business case was compiled by consultancy Systra, and could require investment of up to £80m, primarily in the approximately 20 km long preserved railway which links Heywood with Rawtenstall via Bury and Ramsbottom.

According to Rossendale Council, the borough is the only local authority area in Lancashire without a passenger rail service. The area has good road access, linked to central Manchester via the M66 and A56 trunk roads, but the council says there is significant concern from local residents about traffic congestion and air pollution.

Branded as City Valley Rail Link, the proposed service would be developed in two stages. Initially trains would run over the ELR tracks between Rawtenstall and a new halt at Bury Market Street, serving new intermediate stations at Ewood Bridge and Stubbins, as well as those already used by the ELR at Ramsbottom and Summerseat, where a dynamic passing loop is envisaged.

Under CVRL Phase I, passengers would alight at Bury Market Street to walk a short distance to Bury Interchange, where they would continue towards central Manchester on Metrolink light rail services. The end to end journey time is estimated to be 56 min.

The second phase would see trains continue east from Bury to Heywood before proceeding via the ELR’s non-revenue tracks to meet the national network at Castleton Junction, from where they would run southwest along the Calder Valley Main Line to Manchester Victoria.

This option would give a Rawtenstall – Manchester journey of 44 min, while a trip between Heywood and Manchester Victoria would take around 14 min. Systra says a new station would be required at Heywood to cope with forecast demand.

The report adds that significant expenditure on the ELR infrastructure would be needed, focused on stations, lineside structures and signalling. However, the heritage aspects of the ELR operation would be retained and there is not intended to be major alterations to its services, which mostly run at weekends and use heritage steam and diesel traction. CVRL services would use modern rolling stock tailored to this operating environment, such as the Vivarail Class 230 multiple-unit or the Revolution Very Light Rail vehicle recently demonstrated on the Ironbridge branch in Shropshire.

Trains are planned to run every 30 min at peak times and hourly during the rest of the day. The business case also says that the ELR is expected to form part of the operating organisation delivering the service, possibly under a co-operative model. This would require investment in the ELR company itself, giving it the potential to become a rail services-oriented business while retaining volunteer participation in the delivery of heritage services on operating days.

‘We fully support the new rail link. Rossendale’s natural geography is one of its greatest features, but also places constraints on what is viable and affordable in terms of creating better transport links’, commented Charlie Edwards, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for highways and transport. ‘There is a limit to the amount of traffic which the valley roads can cope with, and the creation of a regular rail service to Manchester has great potential to ensure our residents can access new opportunities for employment, education and leisure.’

Rossendale Council Leader Alyson Barnes added that ‘the rail link is vital to our continued sustainable growth which is why we as a council have driven this forward over a number of years — hopefully we are now seeing the fruits of this strategy’.

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