End of the line for rail link campaign?

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Hopes of restoring a train service between Whitby and York have been dealt a blow by North Yorkshire Moors Railway, the Gazette can reveal.

Philip Benham, managing director of the heritage railway which holds the key to the proposed restoration of the rail link, says the plans are “impractical”.

An internet campaign aiming to petition the government to relay six miles of track between Rillington and Pickering, connecting Whitby with the direct line to York, currently boasts around 1,000 supporters.

Yet these plans would be dependant on the use of track owned by the railway being available for use by a commuter service.

Mr Benham believes that the idea of a rail link through Pickering is littered with flaws and would actually threaten the existence of NYMR as a tourist attraction.

He said: “NYMR could not support these plans in their current form.

“We are not against the idea of providing Whitby with a better train service, however this idea is not practical and it would actually put our very existence at risk.

“We are a tourist attraction, and one that brings around £30m a year into the local economy. We provide a unique experience that would not be compatible with modern trains travelling at high speed on our track.”

NYMR have reservations regarding a number of issues, including the cost and practicality of re-laying track.

“The costs would be huge. Bare in mind that a lot of the land that the line would pass through is privately owned so the purchase of this would need to be negotiated.

“Re-laying track and upgrading the line to be able to accomodate high-speed trains would also be very expensive.”

Mr Benham feels that even if the financial aspect of the project was no issue there would still be “huge obstacles to surmount”.

“Buildings would need to be torn down,” he added.

“There is currently a library and a major road junction on the land where the line used to pass through.”

Robert Goodwill, MP for Whitby and parliamentary under-secretary of state for transport has also described the idea as a “non-starter”.

“It is not a new notion, and it is something that I have looked at very carefully and it just isn’t going to happen,” he said.

Mr Benham was keen to stress that he is not against improvements to train services to and from Whitby but feels that there is a better option than the one suggested by Neil Kipling’s Whitby to York rail link group.

He continued: “We haven’t done a huge amount of research into this idea as it is not our place, but, superficially at least, a better solution would appear to be to restore the rail link through Battersby.

“This would connect Whitby with the East Coast Mainline via track between Northallerton and Middlesbrough.

“Most of the track bed is still there, the engineering challenges would be considerably less, journey time would appear to be comparable with that of the route via Pickering and it would undoubtedly cost less money to undertake.”

Mr Kipling recently revealed that David Reall, owner of Va-GTI Asset Management Group Hong Kong, has pledged £60,000 towards a feasibility study on the plans, a development which surpised NYMR representatives.

“When we met with Mr Kipling to discuss his plans he admitted that the original idea was not practical and that he was now considering an alternative link which involved a bus service,” Mr Benham added.

“We then discovered that he had reverted back to the idea of running trains down our track.

“When we contacted him to ask about the findings of the feasibility study, Mr Kipling said that the information was confidential.

“I find this a strange response given that our consent is crucial to his plans and I do not think that these are the actions of someone with serious intentions of restoring this rail link.”