Why our rail infrastructure needs to be a priority
Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership Board Member Jim Jackson looks at the potential for rail line and service improvements for the Lake District.
Earlier in the summer, it was announced that several rail line electrification projects across the country were to be shelved by the government.
One of these previously promised improvement schemes was the electrification of the Lake District railway line from Oxenholme and Windermere, a disappointing decision for Cumbria and its transport network.
The improvement of this line, the only public transport rail head for the heart of the Lake District, is not deemed as a priority by the Department for Transport, although it has pledged to double the number of direct services and through trains to Manchester Airport. It is also committing to the provision of new trains to come on line later with more seats and better on-board facilities.
At the moment we simply do not know enough about the finer details of this policy, and in light of the Lake District’s attainment of World Heritage Status this summer, the issue of electrification and line and service capacity improvements has come into much sharper focus.
Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership has written to the Secretary of State for Transport to ask for more specific detail about the extent of their plans for improvements. We are also asking the government to look at further investment in services and in particular improvements to Windermere station.
Our aim is to open up further discussion with the Department for Transport, about improved frequency of services between Oxenholme and Windermere, including morning and evening services, and about its proposals for additional through trains to Manchester, the technology and types of trains to be used, their passenger capacity, line speed and timings.
We also want to put modernisation improvements to Windermere station on the table to accommodate additional capacity, for example, a second platform, passing loop or other innovative ideas to improve line capability.
Cumbria LEP and our partners have been looking at the feasibility for line improvements, station upgrades, and additional services, all of which would benefit the local tourism economy and visitor experiences. Electrification of the line was a key part of this infrastructure planning work.
The Lake District National Park Authority, as members of the LEP board, are supportive of the electrification of the Lakes Line. They have confirmed that electrification is wholly consistent with the management plan for the National Park and World Heritage Site and would make a significant and positive contribution to supporting the regional economy and enabling low carbon, sustainable transport.
The electrification upgrades which were promised for this line would have made a huge difference to achieving these goals. With rises in visitor numbers to Windermere and the heart of the Lake District widely predicted, we are seeking a commitment from Government to look into the matter again, together with the partnership, in much more detail.
While seeking to protect the sensitive environment of the latest World Heritage Site, line improvements would benefit the local tourism economy and visitor experiences, as well as transport connectivity, long term cost efficiency and environmental sustainability. We want to leave no stone unturned in looking at other ways of improving it for the visitor economy.