North Yorkshire County Council is to push ahead with its ambition to double the number of passenger trains between Harrogate and York as part of its continuing commitment to improving public and sustainable transport.
The County Council has worked with Network Rail and Northern Rail to develop proposals to enable the current one train an hour to be increased to two by 2020 and to reduce journey times. This would mean at least 30 trains a day in each direction, Monday to Saturday, and 20 in each direction on Sundays.
These service improvements will result from signalling upgrades and increased speeds at points along the line.
The County Council has already committed £2.9m to the £12.5m project. Today (19 December), the County Council’s Executive agreed to prepare a detailed funding bid for the remaining £9.6m to the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) having received a positive initial response to the proposal. The bid is expected to be submitted in February.
County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, including rail transport, said:
Harrogate and its surrounding area have grown significantly in recent years and that growth is likely to accelerate. We are committed to the enhancement of strong, sustainable public transport links that support this growth.
These rail improvements represent an important part of helping Harrogate to realise its potential and would strengthen the east to west transport links that are vital to the county as a whole.
Harrogate station is the busiest in North Yorkshire, with 1.65m passengers last year, up by six per cent from the previous year and by 40 per cent in the past ten years. Passenger numbers on the line continue to be strong: Starbeck is up by eight per cent and Knaresborough by 10 per cent, compared with zero growth on average nationally. Large scale residential and business development in Harrogate and elsewhere along the line will increase demand further.
The proposals build on other improvements already completed or planned by Northern Rail and Virgin Trains East Coast to upgrade the local rail network, including: a £950,000 investment in passenger facilities at Harrogate station earlier this year; doubling the number of trains between Harrogate and Leeds to four an hour next year as part of a revised timetable; seven direct return journeys to London from May 2019; and, by December 2020, the introduction of Azuma trains between Harrogate and London.
Brian Dunsby , Transport Spokesman, Harrogate District Chamber:
The proper solution for the Knaresborough to York railway line is to replace the double track between Knaresborough and Cattal which is what NYCC and the LEP proposed to do but Network Rail say they have not budgeted sufficient to do the job properly.
Plans for resignalling this part of the line were also proposed to match the work done between Leeds and Harrogate.
Frankly it is appalling that this vital rail link will still rely upon staff handing over of key tokens at each end of the single line sections to enable the points to be changed so that trains can operate safely alternately in each direction on the single line section.
Whilst the plan to double the frequency to 2 trains per hour is welcome we doubt if they will be able to maintain the timetable reliably.