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Local MP's 'encouraged' by minister's response on future of the Furness Line

October 29, 2014 12:37 PM

From left to right, Ian Stephens (Cumbria Tourism, Chief Executive), Cllr Peter Thornton (Leader, SLDC), John Woodcock MP, Tim Farron MP, Cllr Liz Lewis (Mayor of Grange) & at the front Cllr Frank Cassidy (Barrow councillor) South Lakes MP Tim Farron and Barrow & Furness MP John Woodcock have said they are 'encouraged' by the tone of comments from rail minister Claire Perry on the future of the threatened direct trains between Furness, the South Lakes and Manchester.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon, Tim set out a compelling argument for more trains and electrification of the line by 2030, a plan for which was laid out in a recent report by The Railway Consultancy Ltd.

The exhaustive 90-page 'Furness Line Study' explores what could be the future for the line, which is not fit for present demand, let alone prepared for the expected population and employment booms along its route in the medium term.

The report highlights both short term and long term needs for the line, which formed the basis of this afternoon's parliamentary debate on the future of the line, where Tim and John called for services on the route, including threatened direct trains to Manchester Airport, to be protected and enhanced.

Speaking in the debate, John called for investment in rail in the north to include routes linking smaller towns and cities to the major hubs, such as the Furness route, raising concerns that the government's much-hyped HS3 proposal focusses primarily on linking the largest cities, ignoring the vital economic role that the railway plays for smaller, geographically isolated towns. Tim Farron urged the government to ensure that Network Rail seriously considered the possibility of electrifying the Furness line to improve service levels and guarantee the direct Manchester train. This would be of huge benefit to residents, commuters, families with children travelling to school, the vastly important tourism economy and the wider business community along the line's route.

Ministers are currently considering responses to a consultation on the future specifications for the rail franchises serving Furness, where options included ending or slowing the direct Barrow to Manchester service. Rail minister Claire Perry told the debate that the response to the consultation and an invitation to tender for new franchises would be published in December.

Commenting, Tim said: "The Minister's comments were encouraging. It seems as though her Department have listened to our concerns and know that something needs to be done if we are to protect and enhance the long term future of the line, along with the social and economic benefits that would bring. I'll keep pushing on this issue, along with my fellow Cumbrian MP's like John, to ensure we end up with decisive action and investment, not just empty rhetoric.

"I'd like to thank the Railway Consultancy Ltd for their fantastic report, and pay tribute to the late Peter Robinson, former chair of the Furness Line Action Group who sadly passed away earlier this year, who was a source of great knowledge and wisdom on this issue and will be sorely missed."

John Woodcock said: "I am broadly encouraged by the minister's approach to this issue, though I recognise that she is constrained by the consultation process in not being able to provide a direct promise on the future of Furness' vital Manchester service at this time. She will have heard the arguments loud and clear today, as well as from the Cumbria Better Connected campaign's study of the line, as to why improving the Furness line is so vital for the area's residents and the local economy and I hope she will take those on board.

"We cannot allow the Furness line to become a downgraded branch line while other areas receive significant rail investment - I'm pleased that the case for saving our direct trains, removing the sub-standard Pacers and for eventual electrification of the route has been heard in parliament today."