End of the line for rail bid?

The disused railway line at Lowton under the East Lancs Road
The disused railway line at Lowton under the East Lancs Road

COULD an ambitious scheme for a new rail line scheme be about to hit the buffers – before it has even begun?

Backers of the project to bring a railway station back to Leigh claim the scheme would cost almost a third less than the proposed new £77m kerb-guided busway.

But a document soon to be presented to Wigan’s ruling Cabinet, and seen by the Wigan Evening Post, says it would actually cost £95m.

The report strongly refutes the cost advantages to returning the trains to what is reputed to be Britain’s biggest conurbation no longer connected to the national rail network.

Pressure group Transport for Leigh’s (TfL) expert costing said that building a new station at Pennington and taking a spur from the existing Liverpool / Manchester (Chat Moss) line at Kenyon Junction via an over-bridge over the East Lancs Road would cost £52m.

But councillors will be told that, although desirable, the return of heavy rail into the town will actually costs almost double TfL’s £52m price tag – an eye watering £95m!

Leigh lost it’s rail line in May 1969.

Residents and business group Transport for Leigh’s scheme has been costed by freight train operators Stobart Rail - the train division of truck giant Eddie Stobart - envisages taking a different route into Leigh because so much of the original rail route is now roadway.

They want to revive a section of trackbed of the former Wigan Great Central - Manchester line, crossing the East Lancs via an over bridge (the original line which closed in 1964 went underneath it).

The line’s projected route then turns east to run parallel with the A580 East Lancs before crossing the Lowton St Mary’s by pass via another road bridge to run parallel with that up to a new station site at Pennington.

Wigan director of environment Gillian Bishop reports that the aspirations for a railway station in Leigh were “widely recognised” and the emerging Transport Strategy for the borough seeks to “understand and plan to improve” rail accessibility for the Leigh community.

But she points out that the remoteness of the station being proposed at Pennington would mean many passengers taking a supplementary bus journey to get there in the first place.

And she reveals: “The two schemes are very far apart.

“Although the viability and feasibility of these proposals have yet to be fully proven and the costs validated, officers from GMPTE say that if it is appraised to Department for Transport Major Business Case Standards - as with the busway - the total comparative appraisal costs would rise from £52m and be brought up to around £95m.

“Although work done has highlight the likely potential costs, there are still a number of significant technical, operational and deliverability issues to be examined with the heavy rail proposals.

“These include meeting the current minimum rail industry design standards.

“For example of line curves and the fact that there are currently no spare rail paths to accommodate additional train services.

She also points out that the 50 space park and ride car park envisaged for Pennington would be in green belt land that would further complicate the “significant challenges” to securing planning permission.

But TfL supporter Independent Coun Norman Bradbury insisted that they will press on with the campaign for trains instead of high tech buses.

He said: “The people of Leigh don’t need to be consulted anymore - they made it clear beyond doubt - they overwhelmingly want a Heavy Rail Link to Leigh.

“This will bring long term economic regeneration to the area, making Leigh a more desirable place to live and work.

Ruling councillors are being recommended to agree it is “neither necessary nor appropriate” for the Metro to carry out further consultations.