The territory

Location of Bury—Heywood—Rochdale line

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Reopening the Bury – Heywood – Rochdale line with a possible feeder service from Rawtenstall: the proponents and their ambitions

Bolton – Bury – Rochdale and related lines, 1955

Old map of East Lancashire Railway

Old map of East Lancashire Railway
The four miles of track stretching westwards from the Calder Valley line near Castleton to Heywood and Bury closed in 1970, leaving these towns without a station. Bury Knowsley Street station, located close to Bury Town Hall, was demolished soon after passenger services ended. It would be an almost insurmountable challenge to create a new station here, owing to space constraints and the presence of the ‘ski jump’ where the railway line passes over Metrolink’s rails.
Location of Bury Bolton Street station, Bolton Interchange, and former Bury Knowlsey Street station

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The main proponents of a Bury – Heywood – Rochdale reopening are:

East Lancashire Railway

In 2003, the heritage East Lancashire Railway (ELR) that began operations in 1991, initially between Bury Bolton Street and Ramsbottom, later heading north to Rawtenstall, extended its track at the southern end from Bury Bolton Street eastwards to Heywood over most of the abandoned formation.

East Lancashire Railway: route map

Map source: East Lancashire Railway website.
Over the years, ELR has repeatedly stated its intention to make a further extension from Heywood to Castleton, thereby providing an interchange with the Calder Valley line and access to the National Rail network.
View map full size

Calder Valley line | Enlarge | Source: Wikipedia
Castleton Junctions, where the Bury—Heywood line joins the Calder Valley line

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Rossendale Borough Council

Rossendale Borough Council is the local authority for the Rossendale district of Lancashire. It was formed in 1974 as a result of the 1972 Local Government Act and consists of the former Municipal Boroughs of Bacup, Haslingden and Rawtenstall, one third of the former Urban District of Ramsbottom, and the former Urban District of Whitworth. The population of the borough was 65,652 at the time of the 2001 Census. Source: Wikipedia. Rossendale Borough Council is not part of Greater Manchester.

Two proposals to improve public transport links between Rossendale and central Manchester have thrown the future of the East Lancashire Railway (ELR) heritage operation into doubt. Rossendale Borough Council is one of three local authorities which own the ELR trackbed [the others are Bury MBC and Rochdale MBC] and is driving forward plans to introduce regular peak-period commuter trains on the heritage railway. A second scheme to introduce tram-trains between Bury and Rochdale would use part of the ELR’s route from Bury to Castleton via Heywood.

Source: Rossendale rail revival puts future of East Lancs Railway under threat, by Ben Jones, on The Railway Hub website (our emphasis).

Work is continuing on providing a business case for the rail link which is seen as a long term project and discussions are on-going with GreaterManchester Combined Authority (GMCA), who are currently preparing the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, the adjoining authorities in Greater Manchester (Bury MBC and Rochdale MBC), Lancashire County Council and other interested parties including Network Rail, Transport for the North, East Lancashire Railway etc. Five options have been identified in a report produced by CEBR, and Rossendale Borough Council is looking to work with partner organisations to prepare a business case for this work. A Steering Group comprising of local MPs, councillors, and local authority officers has been established to take forward this work.

Source: Rossendale Local Plan—Duty to Co-Operate statement incorporating draft Statement of Common Ground (pdf; 37pp—March 2019).
In 2018, the council in partnership with Lancashire County Council commissioned the economics consultancy Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) to conduct a study exploring options for a commuter rail link between Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom, Bury and Manchester. The results of this study were published in the document Restoring the Valley-to-City Link—Early Strategic Case for Investment (pdf—November 2019). The study found that 14,000 Rossendale residents travel daily to work with 9,000 going into the Greater Manchester area.

Cebr explored five alternative schemes. Option 4, described by the firm as “promising”, is summarised below.

Valley-to-City Link: Option 4

Map: Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr).

A promising option involves re-establishing a national rail link from Bury Bolton Street to the Calder Valley line at Castleton and on to Manchester Victoria or Rochdale. A shuttle service between Rawtenstall and Bury could be operated in the morning and evening peaks.

Some investment is likely to be needed to upgrade the rail infrastructure east of Bury but would be modest in scale compared to most rail reopening schemes (e.g. low tens of millions of pounds). For this option to work the ELR [East Lancashire Railway] would need to be on board as a cooperative partner.

This option would not detract from the ELR’s heritage character although there would likely be some impacts on operations and working practices:

  • There would be some changes at Bury Bolton Street but these could be made without detracting from the ELR. An existing disused terminating platform at Bury Bolton Street (previously used for electric trains to Manchester Victoria pre 1992) could be brought back into use for the national rail service and low-key national rail station facilities provided (in keeping with the heritage character). We envisage second hand rolling stock operating the national rail service, e.g. ex‑London Underground 1970s District line units [Vivarail Class 230 trains as used on the Marston Vale line between Bletchley and Bedford and soon to be working the 750 VDC Island line as Class 484s] fitted with either diesel or battery power – these are being converted for use in West Midlands and Wales at present;
  • We envisage the section of the ELR east of Bury Bolton Street (i.e. towards Heywood) returning to Network Rail, with the ELR having access – timetabling of trains to Heywood would need to fit with rail service and there is likely to be a need for double tracking of this section.
Source: Restoring the Valley-to-City Link—Early Strategic Case for Investment, by Cebr (pdf—November 2018).

A steering group will lead on the planning and delivery of the proposed commuter rail link from Rossendale to Manchester, with stops along the way at Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom, Bury and Heywood. The Valley City Link group brings together MPs Jake Berry, Liz McInnes and James Frith; representatives from Rossendale, Bury, Rochdale and Lancashire County Councils; Transport for Greater Manchester; Greater Manchester and East Lancashire Chambers of Commerce and local business leaders.

Source: Planning group set up for Heywood rail link, on Rochdale Online website (March 2019). It seems that the Valley City Link group does not include a representative from East Lancashire Railway.
Transport for Greater Manchester announces its tram-train plan:

Rossendale Council has reappointed CEBR consultants to conduct a refresh of the early strategic case for investment for the Rawtenstall to Manchester rail link.

Since the publication of the report Transport for Greater Manchester in their transport plan have earmarked part of the heritage railway route from Bury–Heywood–Rochdale as suitable for tram-train operations. It’s important therfore that any extension from Bury to Ramsbottom–Stubbins–Ewood Bridge–Rawtenstall is properly incorporated. The government has invited Rossendale Council to submit a new bid to the Restoring Your Railway fund, following an earlier March submission with a new funding round in November. The application is supported by Rossendale’s two MPs, Jake Berry and Sara Britcliffe. The project is also listed as a pipeline project by Transport for the North 2027+ in their draft strategy. The refreshed report will form part of the Restoring Your Railways bid as well as a future Transport for the North submission. Cllr Alyson Barnes, Leader of Rossendale Council said: “The work that we have undertaken has restored the credibility of the project with key partners and there is a need to update the report following TfGMs tram-train proposals. The short-term goal is to secure external funding for a strategic business case into the reopening.”

Source: Refresh for Early Strategic Case for Investment – Rawtenstall to Manchester, The Valley City Link, on Rossendale Borough Council News website (September 2020).
Have earmarked? Or are preparing to annex?

Rochdale Borough Council

Rochdale Borough Council is a local authority in Greater Manchester and a constituent of Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The council wants to connect Haywood to the National Rail network and improve connections between Rochdale, Heywood, Oldham and neighbouring communities.

A pilot ‘tram-train’ route has been proposed between Heywood and Rochdale by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM). One of three potential ‘Pathfinder’ routes published in the Draft Delivery Plan 2020-25, the northern Pathfinder scheme is proposed to call at the existing Rochdale station and provide new connections between Oldham, Rochdale, Heywood and other communities along the route. The tram-train service would enable adapted Metrolink vehicles to run on the same lines as trains. Tram-train technology is common in European countries, but has only recently been tried in the UK with the first running between Sheffield and Rotherham. Should the local Pathfinder service prove successful, a proposal for a Metrolink or tram-train service linking Rochdale to Bury is expected to be developed in the next five years following further investigation.

Source: Pathfinder ‘tram-train’ route proposed between Heywood and Rochdale, on Rochdale Online website (November 2019).

The Greater Manchester five-year delivery plan, which was published last year by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), shows the Bury–Heywood–Rochdale route to be of key consideration with the corridor highlighted as being suitable for intervention. TfGM is also currently undertaking a tram-train pathfinder project in this area. The Department for Transport will work with TfGM to agree research remits and appropriate joint governance and timescales. Tony Lloyd, Member of Parliament for Rochdale, welcomed the successful first step towards restoring the local rail line. Mr Lloyd said: “The government announcement that Rochdale and Greater Manchester had been successful in its bid to the ‘Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund’ will allow for Transport for Greater Manchester, working with Rochdale Council, to work up a business plan aimed at the reopening and improvement of some six miles of railway between Bury and Rochdale.

Source: Successful first step to restore Rochdale-Heywood-Bury railway line, on Rochdale Online website (May 2020).

Transport for Greater Manchester

Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is the public body responsible for co-ordinating transport services throughout Greater Manchester. TfGM is responsible for investments in improving transport services and facilities. It is the executive arm of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which funds and makes policies for TfGM. The authority is made up of 33 councillors appointed from the ten Greater Manchester districts (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan). Source: Wikipedia.

Manchester Metrolink

Manchester Metrolink map created by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) | CC BY-SA 2.0

Manchester Metrolink | Created by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) | CC BY-SA 2.0 (please note and view licence) | Sourced via Wikipedia
Manchester Metrolink was launched in 1992. It is owned by TfGM, which funds Metrolink without a government grant. The head of Metrolink, Danny Vaughan, is an employee of TfGM. The system is currently operated and maintained by KeolisAmey Metrolink, a joint venture between Keolis and Amey, who were awarded the contract for a period of up to 10 years from 15 July 2017. The system carries more than 43.7 million passengers a year. With 99 stations it is the largest local transport network in the United Kingdom after the London Underground. Source: Wikipedia.

Last month [January 2019], Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) published their 2040 vision for housing, planning, public services and transport in Greater Manchester. Key to this vision was recognition of the role that the city’s Metrolink tram network has played in regenerating vast areas of the city, whilst creating a more robust and cohesive urban region. TfGM and the GMCA want to build on this success by more than doubling the network from its present-day size, reaching more GM boroughs, communities and regeneration opportunities. TfGM believes the solution lies in a technology which is relatively new to the UK. Tram-trains have the ability to run on the street as a tram, or on the rail network as a train, sharing the tracks with ordinary trains. TfGM has outlined a plan to deliver three new ‘trial’ lines which will be used to test the viability of tram-trains on Greater Manchester’s rail network. The first of these will run between Rochdale and Heywood, sharing tracks with the National Rail network to Castleton and then East Lancashire Railway tracks into Heywood. This would give Heywood a connection to the Metrolink network which could be extended further to Bury in the future.

Source: Is this what Metrolink will look like in 2040? on Confidentials Manchester website (February 2019) | View Ed Howe’s excellent map of how the Metrolink network might look in 2040

Summary

PROPONENTWHAT IS WANTED?SOME QUESTIONS
East Lancashire RailwayPreserve heritage character

Create an ELR—National Rail interchange by extending beyond Heywood to Castleton

Retain Heywood and Bury Bolton Street as heritage stations

Continue using track between Bury and Heywood
Can the challenge of operating public transport services over heritage infrastructure be surmounted?

Will political and economic interests dictate the future of ELR?

Can EMR preserve its autonomy?

How come we rarely, if ever, hear the voice of ELR in the many articles and documents we’ve been reading?
Rossendale Borough CouncilIntroduce a commuter rail service, Rowtenstall – Bury Bolton Street – Manchester, ideally via Heywood and Calder Valley line as Metrolink into Manchester is already at capacity.

Connect Rowtenstall and West Yorkshire by rail.
Does the fulfiment of its ambitions depend too heavily on the sustained goodwill and co-operation of ELR? New information has come to light: Between them, Rossendale Borough Council, Bury MBC and Rochdale MBC own the ELR trackbed.

Does Rossendale Council have sufficient influence given that it is not part of Greater Manchester?

Are there any examples of a long-established and successful rail service that operates only in peak hours?
Rochdale Metropolitan Borough CouncilIntroduce a public transport rail service between Rochdale, Castleton and Heywood

Improve connectivity between Rochdale, Heywood, Oldham and neighbouring communities
Has ELR pledged its consent and co-operation? Between them, Rossendale Borough Council, Bury MBC and Rochdale MBC own the ELR trackbed.
Transport for Greater ManchesterIntroduce a tram-train service between Rochdale, Castleton and Heywood with possible later extension to Bury

Test tram-trains in a real-world situation to determine their potential in an extended Metrolink network.
Has ELR pledged its consent and co-operation? Between them, Rossendale Borough Council, Bury MBC and Rochdale MBC own the ELR trackbed.

Where will the Bury terminus be located? Bolton Street station shared with ELR? A rebuilt Knowsley Street station? Bury Interchange? Another location?

Will the tram-trains terminate in Rochdale? Or continue beyond Rochdale along existing Metrolink tracks? Or run into Manchester Victoria using Network Rail infrastructure?

If the latter, where will the street running sections of the line be? In other words, why will tram-trains be needed?

What if, for technical reasons, the tram-train trial is unsuccessful?
The ambitions of the two borough councils and TfGM can only be fulfilled with the consent and co-operation of East Lancashire Railway, so we are bewildered that this organisation does not seem to be a member of the Valley City Link group mentioned earlier.

The information shown in the table was obtained or inferred from news items and documents sourced via the Internet. Please use the contact form to report any errors, omissions or insights.

Overview of Greater Manchester reopening schemes

Read about Gamesley station Read about the Rose Hill Marple – Hazel Grove line Read about Golburne station Read about Kenyon Junction station Read about the Altrincham – Stockport line Read about the Glazebrook Junction – Skelton Junction line Read about the East Didsbury – Stockport line Read about the Manchester Victoria – Ashton – Stockport line Read about the Oldham Mumps – Greenfield line Read about the Bury – Heywood – Rochdale line Read about the Bury – Rawtenstall line Read about the Bolton – Bury line Read about the Bolton – Radcliffe line Read about the Bolton – Walkden line

Further reading

British Rail [sic] Class 399 – Wikipedia (tram-train unit as used by Sheffield Supertram)

Bury Knowsley Street railway station – Wikipedia

Bury Knowsley Street, on Disused Stations website (includes maps and photos)

Calder Valley line – Wikipedia

East Lancashire Railway – Wikipedia

Is this what Metrolink will look like in 2040? on Confidentials Manchester website

Pathfinder ‘tram-train’ route proposed between Heywood and Rochdale, on Rochdale Online website (November 2019)

Planning group set up for Heywood rail link, on Rochdale Online website (March 2019)

Refresh for Early Strategic Case for Investment – Rawtenstall to Manchester, The Valley City Link, on Rossendale Borough Council News website (September 2020)

Restoring the Valley-to-City Link—Early Strategic Case for Investment, by Cebr (pdf)

Rossendale rail revival puts future of East Lancs Railway under threat, by Ben Jones, on The Railway Hub website.

Successful first step to restore Rochdale-Heywood-Bury railway line, on Rochdale Online website (May 2020)