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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Political unrest could delay Cumbria rail line upgrade, campaigner warns

STEPS to upgrade the Furness railway line could be left in jeopardy by political uncertainty, a campaigner has claimed.

Derek Faulds, chairman of the Furness Line Action Group, has raised concerns after a string of potential setbacks emerged.

A consultation is under way which could see Transpennine Express trains removed from routes to Barrow, and this week the Evening Mail revealed proposals to introduce the first Sunday service between Barrow and Carlisle for around 30 years has been blocked by the Department for Transport.

A decision which could see a direct rail service introduced from Barrow to London is still outstanding.

And while the Lakes line has had funding secured to electrify the route, the Furness line is yet to be confirmed.

Mr Faulds said shockwaves from the cabinet reshuffle and the 2015 general election could set this back further.

He said: “It will make it harder.

“With the election close it could throw everything up in the air.

“I’ve got reams of stuff from community partnerships and various groups, there are that many concerns you don’t know where to start.”

Stuart Klosinski, industrial development manager at Furness Enterprise believes a study, Cumbria Better Connected, organised by Barrow MP John Woodcock, could help safeguard rail services.

He said: “We understand FLAG’s concerns but with the upcoming consultants’ study there is an opportunity to try and encourage Cumbrian partners to get Cumbria better connected by persuading either the present or incoming government to trial something for a reasonable period to see if this is something that could be used to improve connectivity.”

Union officials have waded in to the debate, blasting the ongoing consultation to refranchise services in the north which are due to end on August 18.

Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, said: “Let’s not forget that the core of these plans is to axe jobs, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.”

Both Transpennine Express and Northern Rail were unable to comment due to the ongoing consultation process.

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