A tangible first step has been taken towards upgrading the Cumbrian coastal railway line, with the submission of an early stage business case to the Department of Transport for funding for improvements to the line.
Over the last 18 months, a group of businesses and organisations – the Cumbrian Rail Programme Board – has been working with the Department for Transport, Transport for the North and Network Rail to make the case for improvements to the railway line and create an ‘Energy Coast Line’ fit for the future.
The submission to the Department for Transport makes the case for the line to be urgently upgraded and says that it will soon be unable to cope with increasing demands from business, local people and tourists.
The Cumbrian Rail Programme Board is led by Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, alongside NuGen, West Cumbria Mining, Sellafield Ltd, the Low-Level Waste Repository, National Grid, Network Rail and Cumbria County Council.
Pressure on the line will significantly increase over the next 10 years. Cumbria is due to attract over £60 billion of investment, a large part of which will be in major projects near the coast, such as West Cumbria Mining’s proposed new mine near Whitehaven, decommissioning and waste management at Sellafield, the planned new nuclear power station at Moorside, the new National Grid network and the Low-Level Waste Repository at Drigg.
The business case shows that these developments will mean the movement of up to 172 million tonnes of freight in the coming years and that this cannot be accommodated on the current rail line or on local roads without significant improvements.
Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership’s role is to help drive economic growth in the county and says that the rail upgrade would unlock transformational growth, which would benefit not only Cumbria, but also the Northern Powerhouse and the rest of the UK.
It has therefore agreed to invest just over £1 million of its Government Growth Deal funding towards progressing the project to confirm the upgrades needed. The Government is being asked for funding of just over £9 million to support this effort.
Jim Jackson, Board member, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, says: “West Cumbria badly needs an upgraded coastal rail line so that it will be able to cope with future business demand – that’s important right now because there are businesses making decisions on major developments who need to know they will have the right rail capacity.
“The £60 billion of major investments planned for Cumbria will bring massive economic benefits to the area and the wider UK. However, the businesses making this investment will need to use rail to transport large amounts of freight, which means the line needs to be upgraded.
“Business will pay for some of these upgrades, but it is not feasible for them to fund all of the work, so we are asking for Government funding. It is also important that the work on the line is properly planned and co-ordinated so it can be carried out in the most cost-effective way.”
According to the Cumbrian Rail Programme Board, improvements to the line would directly support the creation of 18,450 jobs in West Cumbria and 5,600 jobs across the rest of the UK; over £10 billion of exports from West Cumbria Mining; Moorside nuclear new build, which would deliver 7% of the UK’s electricity; the 120-year programme of nuclear decommissioning and waste management at Sellafield; development of a high value nuclear cluster; long term waste management at the Low Level Repository at Drigg; and an energy transmission network to carry power to the national grid.
The upgrade would also have major transport and environmental benefits as up to 172 million tonnes of freight would not need to be transported by road. It could also lead to better and more frequent services for local passengers and make it easier for tourists to visit the West Cumbrian coast.
Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership has now submitted a ‘Strategic Outline Business Case’ to Government, on behalf of the Cumbrian Rail Programme Board, which makes the formal case for funding.
Councillor Keith Little, the Cumbria County Council Cabinet Member for Transport, says: “Over the past 18 months, Cumbria County Council has been working closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership and other members of the Rail Programme Board on the development of the proposals for the Energy Coast Line, and we are delighted that the Business Case for the funding has now been submitted to Government.
“Improving the line will bring real benefits to local people and support major economic growth that would transform the area. We hope Government will give its full support to these proposals.”