Labour’s top transport chief has offered support to calls to progress a commuter rail link from Rossendale to Manchester.
Shadow Transport Minister Andy McDonald MP visited Rawtenstall this week to see first-hand how poor transport connectivity is outside the major cities of the region.
It follows a study published late last year which found a rail link would be ‘feasible and cost effective’.
The report, commissioned by Rossendale Council in partnership with Lancashire County Council, explored five different options for a route, including a peak period shuttle service between Rawtenstall and Bury, using the East Lancashire Railway heritage line.
That option could include the introduction of ‘train trams’ to the line.
Mr McDonald told LancsLive: “We are calling for investment in looking at a Rawtenstall to Manchester rail link.
“This would help ensure Rossendale is linked into the surrounding cities and can benefit from the resulting economic growth and also tackle air pollution.
“I believe there has been under-investment the north of England as opposed to areas like the South East and steps must be taken to even up those levels.
“There are 16 million people living in the north of England. That’s more than the population of many European countries and they deserve improved transport links.”
In February, we reported on contrasting reactions among political leaders after a Rossendale to Manchester public transport link was included in Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan and investment programme.
MP Jake Berry had said the report was ‘extremely encouraging’, but council leader Alyson Barnes said it was ‘tremendously disappointing’ that the project – not due to start before 2027 – was not among priority schemes set to be fast tracked.
Recent research found that around 14,000 Rossendale residents travel daily to work, with 9,000 going into the Greater Manchester area.
The shadow minister was joined at East Lancashire Railway by Coun Barnes and Iain Taylor, chairman of the steering group for the rail link.
Coun Barnes said the council was committed to progressing a commuter link to Manchester but ‘it will not come easy and not come quick’.
She said: “The next step is to outline a clear business case.
“We’ve lobbied Transport for the North (TfN) to get the link included in its forthcoming investment programme as a ‘high priority’. We are also seeking funding from TfN, Transport for Greater Manchester and the county council to set up a Strategic Outline Business Case, which is the next step in progressing any project.”
Such a business case would cost around £250,000 to develop.
Mr Taylor said: “We intend to get to the stage where we can form a simple vision for a rail link which everyone can get behind.”