CONCERNS have been raised over the impact a commuter tram/train service could have on the East Lancashire Railway.

Consultants have been commissioned by Rossendale Council to look at the early strategic case for investment in the Rawtenstall-to-Manchester corridor.

A rail study is being undertaken to investigate whether Bury, Ramsbottom, Heywood, Rossendale and other towns could be connected with the national rail network.

Rossendale Council said any solution would need to ensure full integration with the East Lancashire Railway (ELR).

Mike Kelly, chairman of the East Lancashire Railway, said: "The ELR, of course, understands the ambitions of Rossendale Council to improve transport links, in particular, a rail connection from Rawtenstall to Manchester.

"The ELR is a major and popular regional leisure attraction built up by thousands and thousands of volunteers over the past 30 years.

"We have to be concerned as to the potential impact of a commuter service on the continuation of our heritage operations, visitor economy and crucially retaining the passion and loyalty of our many hundreds of volunteers, where many have become disconcerted by previous transport studies commissioned by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) in 2008 and by Lancashire County Council in December, 2016.

"The results of which found a commuter service to be wholly uneconomical."

The study will look into whether tram-trains could access the Metrolink network at Buckley Wells tram stop, Bury, or alternatively use a heavy rail curve at Castleton.

Rossendale Council, working in partnership with Lancashire County Council, has commissioned the study to be carried out by consultants at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

Leader of Rossendale Council, Cllr Alyson Barnes, said: "Rossendale is the only borough in Lancashire without a rail link and it is essential for our future prosperity that we get one.

"Rossendale is on the up and we need our transport infrastructure to reflect that. Delivering a rail link will fit into our wider strategy to vastly improve transport links.

"I know from talking to people and businesses that there is strong support for a railway link. But we need to make our case based on strong evidence. That is why we have commissioned this report at our expense to do an in depth study. I look forward to receiving the findings of the report."

Consultants will refer to work done on the Economic Development Strategy, Local Plan and recent Highways Capacity Study to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support projected economic growth in Rossendale, Pennine Lancashire, Bury and Rochdale.

The findings are expected to be revealed later this year.

Simon Warburton, TfGM’s Strategy Director, said: "As set out in the 2040 Strategy we are working to improve the integration, reach and capacity of our city-region’s public transport so that more people can travel sustainably: taking cars off our roads, reducing congestion and improving our air.

"Previous work on the proposed rail link has not been able to justify a business case for investment, but we recognise that the local population and commuter patterns change, so we are helping to inform Rossendale and Lancashire County Council’s work."