The Bentham Line: Building Back Better

Major New Development Study announced into the potential of the whole route from Leeds to Morecambe and Heysham Port

The Leeds-Morecambe Community Rail Partnership (LMCRP) is looking in detail into the future of The Bentham Line. The Partnership is pleased to announce it has commissioned a new study to evaluate the use of the line and its potential to development as a trans-pennine route serving communities between Leeds and Bradford and the coast at Morecambe and Heysham via its route that includes Keighley, Skipton, Bentham and Lancaster. Following on from the launch of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail in the spring, this is the first such study to be commissioned by a Community Rail Partnership in the country.

The Partnership has commissioned Stantec UK Ltd., together with Allen Rail, to undertake the Bentham Line study. Recently, they have been been engaged in a number of ‘Restoring Your Railway’ bids in the North West of England.

Stantec Project Manager Steven Reid said: “We are delighted to be working on this exciting project to establish a long-term vision and options for the future development of the Bentham Line.  We understand that this is the first piece of work of its kind to be let by a Community Rail Partnership and it provides an opportunity to develop a community-led approach to enhancing the offer on this historic line.”

David Prescott, Director at Allen Rail, added: “I am delighted to be working with Stantec on the Bentham Line project, as I was responsible for the line when I was Regional Railways’ Marketing Manager at York in the late 1980s.  At that time, we developed Line Guide leaflets with partner organisations. So I feel a personal link over the years and I am pleased to be back.”

David Alder, Treasurer of the LMCRP, who has undertaken a lot of the preliminary work for this project, said: “The timing of this work also fits well with the worldwide concerns about global warming and associated environmental attitudes on fuel use.”

“The challenges of the COVID pandemic have meant that many former travel arrangements need to be re-visited and the LMCRP sincerely hopes that they will be able to change perceptions and promote a re-thinking of the role the scenic route of the Bentham Line can make. Given the vision embodied in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, it the right time to look for the Bentham Line to be taken as an even more vital part of the transport network which can help link communities and improve travel for leisure, recreation, education and commercial customers.”

This is a community orientated study and Gerald Townson, LMCRP chairman, said: “A vital part of the study will involve obtaining the views; of both existing and potential stakeholders, of communities on and near the line and of individuals. If you have a genuine interest in public transport and in particular the Bentham line, and would like to see the route fulfil its true potential, then we would be pleased to hear from you. Use the links at the end of this article to offer us your thoughts.”

“We would like to engage with diverse groups and individuals who want to: encourage rail travel for a wide range of opportunities and tackle transport needs with particular regard to current environmental issues. The route has the potential to be invaluable for so many initiatives.”

The LMCRP has been successful in obtaining two substantial grants from the Community Rail Network, the umbrella body for Community Rail Partnerships, and from the Seed Corn Fund administered by Northern Trains Ltd. This has been supplemented by funding and resources made available by the CRP itself. The funding also reflects the support of Transport for the North and the Department forTransport.

Carolyn Watson, Director of Stakeholder and Community Engagement at Northern, commented: “Our customers are at the heart all we do, and we always welcome opportunities to talk about potential improvements which would make a positive impact for them and the communities we serve. We are pleased to be able to help fund the study and now look forward to future conversations to explore the outcomes of the study”.

Ian Davis for the Community Rail Partnership said: “We are delighted to be able to help fund this innovative bid for a forward thinking Community Rail Partnership. We wish the new every success in this, their latest endeavour.”

Rod Tickner, vice-chair of the LisCRP added: “This study encompasses the whole length from coast through the country to the city. We want to champion its use as an alternative trans-pennine rail link. Already, it is used by many passengers for leisure journeys and by many university and college students travelling between North and West Yorkshire and North Lancashire and South Cumbria, and vice versa, but we believe that there are untapped markets for travel in both directions.”

The study is due for completion in early 2022 and will then form the basis for future discussions with the Department of Transport, Network Rail, regional transport bodies, and train operators to help recognise and develop the line’s strategic role, as well as realise the operational developments that will provide service that meet the needs of all the communities and organisations who could use the line. Clearly, the study fits in well with the approach of the government that communities need to be more involved in leading the way to develop and enhance their rail links.

It is anticipated that a number of options will be identified but at present the work will be undertaken with no pre-set conditions imposed. However, some key areas where there is distinct potential are: reducing transport-related inequalities associated with rural areas and allow for improved connections for residents in terms of employment, health, education and training; supporting the growth of both existing and emerging business opportunities; facilitating residential development and employment; land-use development; supporting tourism and reducing car usage.

The LMCRP welcomes contributions from stakeholders, interested parties and individuals along the length of the Bentham Line. Our public survey can be accessed here.

Images show: (courtesy Charlie Rouse)

Afternoon Leeds to Morecambe service; boarding at Leeds.

Between Clapham and Giggleswick with Ingleborough in the background.