SUPPORTERS of long term efforts to reinstate the 'missing link' railway line between Skipton and Colne have welcomed the announcement of a new government feasibility study.

Transport secretary, Chris Grayling, during a visit to Colne Railway Station at the weekend, said the study would look into the value of reopening the 12 mile route, which last ran in 1970.

If reopened, it could create a faster rail route across the Pennines, and allow new passenger services between Lancashire, Skipton and Leeds, connecting communities along the route to new jobs and education opportunities.

“We are carrying out the biggest investment in the North for a generation and are committed to improving rail links to boost the Northern Powerhouse," said Mr Grayling.

“The historic line between Skipton and Colne could deliver a vital link across the Pennines to boost business and move goods between the east and west much more quickly. I want this study to look clearly at the business case and value that the line could provide.”

Peter Bryson, chairman of the Skipton- East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP), which was set up in 2001 to fight for the reinstatement, and which currently has almost 500 members and more than 50 affiliated groups, welcomed the transport secretary's visit to Colne, arranged by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson.

"SELRAP has always believed that the Skipton to Colne project will form a vitally important modern transport link across Northern England. That is why SELRAP’s campaign has always enjoyed such strong support from our members, local businesses and all of our local MPs," he said. "We were delighted that the minister’s speech, made in front of business leaders from across the North, fully recognised not only the importance of providing modern passenger services for our communities, but he also stressed the strategic importance of building faster transport links across all of the North."

He added the transport secretary's announcement was an important milestone in the campaign to reopen the 'missing link'.

"SELRAP now looks forward to working closely with the Department for Transport and Transport for the North during the next stage of studies, with the objective of reopening this line sooner rather than later. "

Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson said he was delighted that there was to be a new study. "(The transport secretary's) visit is further proof of this government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse. I backed the campaign to reopen the line in my maiden speech after being elected eight years ago and have been pushing on it ever since. This study is our chance to demonstrate the business case for reopening the line, which I believe would provide a huge economic boost for Pendle and the wider region.”

Skipton MP Julian Smith also welcome the announcement. "I pay tribute to all the campaigners and I look forward to working with my colleague, Andrew Stephenson MP in helping to deliver the next stage of this railway line to the benefit of both our constituencies," he said.

David Cutter, chief executive of Skipton Building Society, and a long time supporter of SELRAP, said: “Everyone involved in campaigning to reopen the 12 mile stretch of railway between Skipton and Colne will be massively encouraged by the news that the government is to undertake a business case review.

"Skipton Building Society has been a long supporter of this work, as we recognise the clear benefits it will bring to our people who live in East Lancashire and to future colleagues for whom accessible employment is so important. It will make travelling to work on the train quicker and cheaper. And it will open up opportunities for better access to affordable housing – as well as helping boost the local economies along the route. This 12 miles of track is now firmly on the national government radar and Skipton Building Society, along with countless other local businesses and organisations, is committed to do what we can to support SELRAP in reconnecting rail travel between Skipton and Colne.”

North Yorkshire County Council welcomed the commissioning of a new study, which it said recognised the case laid out by an earlier study carried out by Lancashire and North Yorkshire county councils along with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

Cllr Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire’s executive member for transport, said he was delighted with the announcement.

"I think it is an early demonstration of how joint working by a number of transport authorities alongside the soon to be official body, Transport for the North, can influence ministers in London. Our approach to providing evidence of the need for and benefits of better transport links across the Pennines is paying off.’

And Cllr Andrew Lee, the council's executive member for economic growth, said: "Its early days yet but if the study proves that the reopening is feasible and affordable it could help to improve links for workers travelling between East Lancashire and North and West Yorkshire, boosting the economy of both regions. Just as importantly, it could provide a new strategic rail freight route across the Pennines which would be beneficial for many businesses, including Drax Power Station, which transports biomass fuel pellets from Liverpool to Drax by rail, a journey that at the moment can take up to nine hours."

Cllr Mackenzie added: "There are still lots of issues to be addressed, bridges would need replacing, bits of the old railway have now been built on and there will be problems getting the trains back on to the existing railways especially along the Aire Valley line though North Yorkshire, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“I must also recognise that the efforts of the Skipton and East Lancs Rail Action Partnership (SELRAP) and local MPs and councillors from all parties and both sides of the Pennines who have all campaigned for this line to be reopened. We must all see this announcement as a success for the North working together and speaking with one voice.’’

Cllr Simon Myers, Craven District Council’s lead member for Enterprising Craven, said: “This is a positive and encouraging step forward towards reopening the Skipton to Colne line, which could help boost economic growth in Craven. We’re pleased that the transport secretary has announced this feasibility study and look forward with interest to the results.”

Skipton Town Council is a long term supporter of the reinstatement, and a member of SELRAP. Council leader, Cllr Chris Clark, said: "The town council remains fully supportive of SELRAP’s long-standing campaign and has been a member of the group for many years. We very much welcome the viability study and are pleased that further progress is being made towards the potential reopening of the line.”

The study is being co-commissioned by the Department for Transport and Transport for the North and is due to be completed later this year. It supports Transport for the North’s ambition to improve connectivity in the central Pennines corridor.

Transport for the North’s Chief Executive, Barry White, said:

"We will now work with the department, taking note of previous work undertaken, to produce a cost and economic benefit study for reopening the line."

He said the recently published draft Strategic Plan for the North identified the central Pennines as one of seven 'strategic development corridors vital to future economic growth in the North.

“This work could help to improve connectivity in the Central Pennines and a reopened rail link between Skipton and Colne could create a new, faster freight-route across the Pennines as well as benefitting passengers with new services between Lancashire, Skipton and Leeds."