A CAMPAIGN group fighting for the rebuilding of the Skipton-Colne railway link between east Lancashire and Yorkshire, for fast trains to Leeds and new northern freight routes, says progress has been made with industry groups and experts.

The Skipton East Lancashire Railway Action Partnership (SELRAP) says the time is approaching when it will ask a government department, or the new Transport for the North body, to formally support its call to build a new, 12 mile railway on the old route, which closed in 1970.

Today, the Lancashire-side of the line ends at Colne and it is only a single line in places, while on the Skipton side, just the track bed remains.

Now the rail partnership group has drawn-up a £298million budget for a new line, including £80million earmarked for any risks. Campaigners say it is a modest amount compared to billion-pound government schemes.

The partnership held its annual general meeting in Colne recently. It is supported by businesses including electricity generator Drax, Peel Ports, which owns various northern ports and Skipton Building Society.

The campaign has also recently been discussed at Pendle Council with councillors calling for government clarity.

Campaigners say the Skipton-Colne link is vital for the whole north but especially east Lancashire. They say neighbouring Yorkshire communities in Skipton and the Aire Valley have fast, regular access to Leeds and Bradford and much-better prospects.

Furthermore, the group says a reopened Skipton-Colne link would relieve freight train congestion across the north, bringing benefits for passengers and businesses.

Examples include the movement of cargo containers from northern sea ports such as Liverpool, the Humber and Tees; post-Brexit demand for freight services to new freeports and investment zones, and the transport of stone from quarries such as Rylstone.

Reopening the Skipton- Colne link would also complement other railway developments including new sidings at Leyland in Lancashire.

Partnership chairman Peter Bryson, who is from Addingham, said: "We are looking a two trains per hour serving east Lancashire stations including a new station at Earby. We also want a one-hourly service travelling further west around Burnley onwards, where other services exist."

He said: "We held our last in-person annual meeting in Colne three years ago. But things have really moved on recently.

"We have had some major discussions with Transport for the North, Network Rail and the Department for Transport. A few years ago, some estimates were seen as too high. But recent work has been adopted by them. We also have to thank Northern Rail. We've had some very detailed talks about timetables."

He said the plans are for fast, direct trains every 30 minutes connecting east Lancashire stations with Skipton, the Aire Valley and Leeds. Plans include new stations for Colne and Earby.

The group had met various MPs along the route such as Pendle's Andrew Stephenson. Next steps include winning the argument with government departments and civil servants in London.

SELRAP vice-chairman David Penney, from Colne, said: "We have the backing of the West Yorkshire Metro Mayor Tracey Brabin and the leader of Bradford City Council, Susan Hinchcliffe, who is also a key figure at West Yorkshire Combined Authority."

Political parties at Pendle Council support SELRAP's work and North Yorkshire councillors. Keighley MP Robbie Moore had spoken about it too, the meeting heard.

Thanks was also expressed to group member Andy Shackleton, of Settle, who has suffered a stroke but was heavily involved in the campaign for a long time.

Peter Bryson highlighted the dominance of Manchester and Leeds in the north. Government decisions or policies appeared to reinforce their wealth and investment.

Meanwhile, other parts of the north were neglected. Bradford, which has two city centre stations, was earmarked for a major new trans-Pennine rail link but the idea was later cancelled.

While towns along the Leeds-Manchester Piccadilly line will benefit from forthcoming upgrades, east Lancashire and Craven railways needed similar investment, he said.

Campaigners include Phil Spencer, who has links to Skipton. He worked on the Crossrail project in London, He said: "At Rylstone quarry, near Grassington, material is transported to rail sidings at Leyland. But trains have to go to Skipton then the Settle-Carlisle line to Blea Moor, then back to Hellifield, Blackburn and Leyland. It would be much better if trains could come direct from Rylstone to Leyland via Colne. If we had those 12 miles of track, trains could do just that."

Group vice-chairman David Penney added: "We are leaving no stone unturned. We have our individual members and stakeholders, such as Skipton Building Society. We have politicians backing us from Yorkshire and Lancashire. There is no justification for any government to say there is no support for our campaign. We have been working on this for 20 years."