FEATURE: Electrification of Harrogate rail line

Editorial image
Editorial image

Decisions to be made in 2014 could make it feasible that, by 2020, commuters will be greeted by modern, electric trains at all points on the rail line between Leeds and York.

The possible electrification of the network, which serves Harrogate and Knaresborough, was the subject of much discussion in 2013.

Representing businesses across the district, Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce is leading the charge to secure electrification within six years with public support in the form of the Harrogate Line Supporters Group.

A full business case has been submitted to the Department of Transport, and a Government taskforce is in the process of examining how to accelerate rail electrification across the north, an examination which will include a close look at the Harrogate bid.

Harrogate’s business case is being considered against other Yorkshire networks such as those between Selby and Hull and Sheffield and Doncaster.

Funding is set to become available following the 2018 electrification of the Transpennine line between Manchester and Leeds.

The taskforce will report its findings by the autumn, and chief executive of the chamber, Brian Dunsby, believes Harrogate’s bid tops the list of those lines being considered.

Mr Dunsby told the Harrogate Advertiser series: “The Department of Transport has set up a taskforce to set out the options for Yorkshire and the Northwest.

“The big issue is how it interlinks it with the electrification between Leeds and Manchester.

“We are very optimistic that we are at the top of the list and we have had very good comments made in the House of Commons.

“I don’t see what more we can do. I expect taskforce to report back by autumn at the latest, and I know people are anxious to get on.”

Full electrification would not be completed until 2018-2019 at the earliest.

The business case was created by a team including transport provider Metro, whose chairman Coun James Lewis said: “Metro recently proposed a £94m project to electrify the route between Leeds, Harrogate and York in partnership with North Yorkshire, Harrogate and York Councils.

“This would mean an improved frequency of four trains per hour between Leeds, Horsforth and Harrogate, with two trains per hour extending to Knaresborough and York, using modern, electric trains.”

MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough Andrew Jones has brought the case up at Prime Minister’s Questions, and hopes for further progress to be made this year.

He told the Harrogate Advertiser series: “We had a very good run in 2013.

“We made more progress than we have done in many years and it was fantastic, culminating in the publication of the business case.

“I think we are winning the argument for electrification as a whole and for more investment in transport in the north of England.”

Mr Jones looked ahead to 2014. He said: “In 2014 I really want to push the taskforce forward. There is a queue of lines being considered, and I will make sure the Harrogate line is top of that queue.

“I can do that by lobbying, and I have already discussed the bid with the Chancellor and Transport Secretary.

“I am meeting him again next month with John Weighell, the leader of North Yorkshire County Council.”

With passenger numbers at their highest level since the 1920s, Mr Jones is confident the Harrogate bid can be successful, and he believes the business case is the best on offer among the other Yorkshire routes.

He said: “When we think of the benefits electrification can bring to our area in terms of business and leisure tourism, trade and easing congestion I believe we are in with a good chance of persuading the task force that our case is among the strongest.

“Electrification could mean faster trains, twice as many trains per hour plus more early morning and late evening services.

“It also means upgraded rolling stock replacing the tired diesel trains operating now.

“I know from my postbag how welcome this dramatic change in our rail services would be to commuters and other rail users.

“Electrification improves accessibility to our area.

“This could lead to significantly increased business and leisure tourism, provide a further boost to our conference trade and help revive our town centres.”

North Yorkshire County Council agreed last year to invest £12.5m in the line.

The authority supported a proposal to invest £12.5m into doubling the track at points between Harrogate and York, a necessary precursor to the proposed electrification of the line.

County Coun Chris Metcalfe, executive member for passenger transport, said he was pleased to be able to support the project.

“This is the first stage of what could be a £150m regional investment. It is early days, but with such a compelling business and financial case, we are hopeful for the commitment of central Government.”

Separate to the electrification, Network Rail is looking at installing a Platform 0 at Leeds station to support the Harrogate route.